The frequency of data breaches at local authorities reveals an "an underlying problem" with the way they handle sensitive data, Information Commissioner Christopher Gahram said today.
"There is clearly an underlying problem with data protection in local government," he said.
He made his remarks as the ICO announced four new fines for local councils.
Leeds City Coucil was fined £95,000 after sensitive information relating to a child in care was sent in an re-used envelope from which the previous recipient’s address had not been wiped out.
Devon County Council was issued with a £90,000 fine after a social worker filled out an adoption panel report using a previous template. Data on 22 people, including alleged criminal offences, was not removed from the template, however.
The London Borough of Lewisham was fined £70,000 for an incident in which a social worker left documents containing details of sexual abuse allegations on a train.
And the ICO officially announced its £60,000 fine for Plymouth County Council, for a previously report incident in which two similar documents relating to child neglect cases were printed at the same time. An employee picked up both documents and sent them both to one recipient.
This brings the total amount that the ICO has fined local authorities since monetary penalties were introduced in 2010 to £1.9 million.
“We are fast approaching two million pounds worth of monetary penalties issued to UK councils for breaching the Data Protection Act, with nineteen councils failing to have the most straightforward of procedures in place," said Graham in a statement.
“It would be far too easy to consider these breaches as simple human error. The reality is that they are caused by councils treating sensitive personal data in the same routine way they would deal with more general correspondence.
"Far too often in these cases, the councils do not appear to have acknowledged that the data they are handling is about real people, and often the more vulnerable members of society."
"We will be meeting with stakeholders from across the sector to discuss how we can support them in addressing these problems.”