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ICO hits police force with £80k penalty for revealing identities of abuse victims

A police force has been hit with an £80,000 monetary penalty by the Information Commissioner’s Office after it sent a bulk email that identified victims of non-recent child abuse.

Gloucestershire Police was at the time of the incident investigating allegations of abuse relating to multiple victims.

The ICO said that 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 e-mail – including victims and witnesses – could see the full names and e-mail addresses of all the others, the watchdog said. The email also made reference to schools and other organisations being investigated in relation to the abuse allegations.

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The ICO said that 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.”

In a statement Gloucestershire Police said: "The Constabulary understands its information security responsibilities and measures have been put in place to minimise the chances of this happening again.

"Notwithstanding this we are disappointed by the ICO’s decision. The officer in the case had previously carried out their duties to keep all parties informed but on this occasion made a mistake by not blind copying the email addresses of all recipients. The officer immediately informed their manager and apologised to those affected and the matter was self-referred to the ICO. Many of those affected were supportive. Given this, we are considering an appeal."

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, the ICO said.

 

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