Gloucestershire Police has become the latest force to be hauled up in front of the privacy regulator after being fined £80,000 for sending a bulk email that identified victims of historical child abuse.
The case centres on an investigation the force was carrying out into allegations of abuse relating to multiple victims. On 19 December 2016, an officer sent an update on the case to 56 recipients by email but entered their email addresses in the ‘To’ field and did not activate the ‘BCC’ function, which would have prevented their details from being shared with others.
Each recipient of the email – which have potentially included victims, witnesses, lawyers and journalists – could see the full names and email addresses of all the others. The email also made reference to schools and other organisations being investigated in relation to the abuse allegations.
Of the 56 emails sent, all but one was considered deliverable. Three were confirmed to have been successfully recalled once the force identified the breach two days later, so 56 names and email addresses were visible to up to 52 recipients.
ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley said: “This was a serious breach of the data protection laws and one which was likely to cause substantial distress to vulnerable victims of abuse, many of whom were also legally entitled to lifelong anonymity.
“The risks relating to the sending of bulk emails are long established and well known, so there was no excuse for the force to break the law – especially when such sensitive and confidential information was involved.”
The case was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the 2018 Act which has replaced it, because of the date of the breach.
In April, Humberside Police was whacked with a £130,000 fine by the ICO after a catalogue of failings in its handling of disks containing a video interview of an alleged rape victim.
Meanwhile last month, the Crown Prosecution Service was hit with whopping £325,000 penalty after it once again lost unencrypted DVDs containing recordings of police interviews with 15 victims of child sex abuse.
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