The modern digital landscape has placed enormous pressure on the day-to-day processes of public sector organisations. As a result, these organisations are under constant watch from the government and the general public alike.
This has led to many public sector organisations struggling to balance demands for transparency with the need to protect data. Recent research from Iron Mountain into the sector revealed that a third (35%) admitted skills gaps are challenging the ability to handle Freedom of Information requests and, consequently, putting the requested information at risk.
This is certainly a cause for concern and has meant that the Information Commissioner’s Office has felt compelled to issue advice to organisations on how to reduce the number of FOI-related data leaks.
Whilst the findings seem pretty evident, a whole landscape of contradiction has been uncovered as many insist they can cope with FOI requests, but admit that sensitive and confidential records have been compromised at times.
This has become even clearer with recent examples of a council sending out the names and National Insurance numbers of 1,800 benefit claimants in response to an FOI request about housing; and an ambulance service revealing the religious beliefs of its 2,800 staff in response to an unrelated request from a local radio station.
However, other areas have also been seen to reduce an organisation’s ability to respond effectively and securely to FOI requests. In the case of 61% of organisations, documents are regularly lost internally or misfiled, while the closure or relocation of public sector offices has compromised the accessibility of important information for half of those surveyed (51%).
This shows that the trials of transparency are proving a real, if unacknowledged, challenge for the public sector. The number and nature of related data-breach incidents speak for themselves. Freedom of Information is an important and worthwhile right, and one that open democracies can be justifiably proud of.
We just need to make sure that responses are handled with care, accountability and responsibility so that individual data protection rights are not compromised.
Among other things, this requires professional information management and support, skills training and effective policies and guidelines. The ICO issued its advice a year ago, and yet the incidents are still happening – it’s high time we all worked together to make it stop.
Sourced from Phil Greenwood, Director, Iron Mountain