Information Commissioner's Office
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Northern Irish nursing home fined by Information Commissioner’s Office

A nursing home in County Antrim has been fined £15,000 for breaking the law by not looking after the sensitive personal details in its care.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found widespread systemic failings in data protection at Whitehead Nursing Home at the time of a data breach.

The breach came when a member of staff took an unencrypted work laptop home, which was stolen during a burglary overnight. The laptop contained sensitive personal details relating to 46 staff including reasons for sickness absence and information about disciplinary matters. It also held some details about 29 residents including their date of birth, mental and physical health and ‘do not resuscitate’ status.

Ken Macdonald, Head of ICO Regions, said:

“This nursing home put its employees and residents at risk by failing to follow basic procedures to properly manage and look after the personal information in its care.

“Today’s fine shows we can and will act against any organisation we feel is not taking seriously its duty to look after the personal details it has been entrusted with. In a world where personal information is increasingly valuable, it is even more important to ensure the security of data is not overlooked.”

The law says organisations must have measures in place to keep the personal information they hold secure. The nursing home did not have any policies in place regarding the use of encryption, homeworking and the storage of mobile devices or provide enough data security training.

Dr Macdonald said:

“Our investigation revealed major flaws in the nursing home’s approach to data protection. Employees would have expected any details about disciplinary matters or their state of health to have been kept safe. Likewise, residents would not have expected their confidential information to have been stored on an unprotected laptop and taken to an employee’s home. Whitehead Nursing Home had totally inadequate provisions for IT security and procedure and poor data protection training.”

There is more guidance about keeping personal information secure and encryption for mobile devices on the ICO website.

The amount of the fine reflects the size of the nursing home business. A bigger organisation experiencing a similarly serious breach should expect to receive a much larger fine.

Notes to editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  4. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.
    • There are specific rules on:
      • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
      • cookies (and similar technologies);
      • keeping communications services secure; and
      • customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
    • We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.
  5. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  7. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.

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