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Scottish children's organisation loses sensitive case files

ICO says problems could easily have been avoided

The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) breached the Data Protection Act by failing to secure sensitive information about the welfare of young people in two separate incidents, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The SCRA is a body focused on children "most at risk". It decsribes its aim as "to provide a safety net for vulnerable children and deliver tailored solutions which meet the needs of the individuals involved, while helping to build stronger families and safer communities".

It lost childrens' files in a disposed filing cabinet and sent case details via email to the wrong recipient. The ICO said the first incident happened in September last year when nine case files were mistakenly left in a filing cabinet which was removed as part of an office refurbishment.

The cabinet was supposed to be destroyed but was instead sold on to a second-hand furniture shop with the files - containing names, dates of birth, social reports and referral decisions relating to children - still inside. The person who bought the cabinet discovered the files and they were returned to the organisation.

Four months later, in January 2011, a second breach occurred when legal papers containing sensitive information about a child's court hearing were sent to the wrong email address. The documents included details relating to physical abuse and included the identities of the child's mother and witnesses.

Both breaches, said the ICO, were the result of the SCRA's failure to make sure that the organisation's existing data protection and IT security guidance were being correctly followed by it staff.

Ken Macdonald, ICO assistant commissioner for Scotland, said: "The fact that sensitive information was mishandled not once but twice by the same organisation is concerning. On both occasions the personal data compromised related to young children and was caused by human errors that could easily have been avoided. Luckily, on both occasions, the information was not circulated widely."

The ICO said the SCRA has now taken action to make sure that the personal information it handles is kept secure. It says it is also working with the SCRA to raise awareness of its data protection obligations amongst staff through a series of workshops.

During office moves SCRA staff will also be made aware of other existing policies and procedures and monitored to check that they are being followed throughout the moving process.

The SCRA is the latest organisation to have breached the Data Protection Act in relation to leaking the personal details of vulnerable people. Surrey County Council was recently fined £120,000 by the ICO for breaches, and Hertfordshire was fined £100,000.

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