Data safety assurance from council chiefs after theft

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COUNCIL chiefs say they have brought in stronger procedures to protect personal information after a laptop was stolen from an employee’s car.

The laptop and some paper files were taken when the Hartlepool Borough Council employee’s car was stolen from the drive outside their home.

The information contained basic details on four residents receiving adult social care support from the council.

The computer was not encrypted to prevent unauthorised access.

But council bosses say that since the incident, in November 2009, they have brought in more up to date security measures.

It has also been revealed that at neighbouring Durham County Council, a former social worker left a USB memory stick in a street last year containing highly confidential data regarding children in care.

A spokesman for Hartlepool Borough Council said: “Incidents like this are extremely rare, but we can confirm that in November 2009 an employee had their vehicle stolen and a council laptop and paper files were in the boot at the time.

“We very quickly made personal visits to explain that the theft had taken place and all of the residents were very understanding about the situation.

“At the time the council was in the process of encrypting all of its mobile computer devices, but the one stolen hadn’t been encrypted. By the end of 2010 all devices were encrypted to prevent anyone other than the authorised user accessing information.

“Since the incident our policies and procedures have been further strengthened and staff are regularly reminded of the importance of ensuring information on computers is secure at all times.

“All such incidents have to be reported to the Information Commissioner. The commissioner was satisfied with the actions taken by the council and recommended no further action.”

Maureen Clare, Durham County Council’s head of countywide services, said: “The loss of the memory stick occurred last year and all of the information stored on it was subsequently retrieved.

“Since then, we have significantly strengthened our data protection procedures, with a robust system in place to ensure electronic data is completely secure.

“All laptops, memory sticks and other electronic equipment are now security protected so that they cannot be accessed.”

The cases came to light in research by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch which uncovered more than 1,000 cases of councils losing sensitive data between July 2008 and July this year.

The study was part of its ongoing campaign to highlight issues around data protection and the scale of personal information being wrongfully accessed, lost or misused.

Stockton Borough Council, covering Billingham, Wolviston and Wynyard, did not report any incidents.