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An ICO investigation into a data breach at Greater Manchester Police has concluded with the force being fined for failing to take appropriate measures against the loss of personal data.
The action was prompted by the theft of a memory stick containing sensitive personal data from an officer’s home. The device, which had no password protection, contained details of more than a thousand people with links to serious crime investigations.
The ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) found that a number of officers across the force regularly used unencrypted memory sticks, which may also have been used to copy data from police computers to access away from the office. Despite a similar security breach in September 2010, the force had not put restrictions on downloading information, and staff were not sufficiently trained in data protection.
The findings prompted the Information Commissioner to use his powers under the Data Protection Act to impose a Civil Monetary Penalty of £150,000. Greater Manchester Police paid that penalty yesterday, taking advantage of a 20 per cent early payment discount (£120,000).
David Smith, ICO Director of Data Protection, said: “This was truly sensitive personal data, left in the hands of a burglar by poor data security. The consequences of this type of breach really do send a shiver down the spine.
“It should have been obvious to the force that the type of information stored on its computers meant proper data security was needed. Instead, it has taken a serious data breach to prompt it into action.
“This is a substantial monetary penalty, reflecting the significant failings the force demonstrated. We hope it will discourage others from making the same data protection mistakes.”
Nick Banks, head of EMEA and APAC, Imation Mobile Security, commented: “Had the USB stick been encrypted in this case then the information would have been protected and the fine would have been avoided.
“When you look at the risks involved, it simply doesn’t make sense to allow staff working with confidential data to use unencrypted devices. An unencrypted memory stick is totally unsuited to holding this type of confidential information, and Greater Manchester Police should have had firm policies in place to mandate the use of encrypted devices. The investigation found that officers regularly used unencrypted memory sticks, and now the force will have to swallow a large fine and urgently review its data protection policies.
“This is the latest in a long line of very public data breaches, and it does make you question why they keep happening. The warning signs are all there, but for some reason organisations seem to ignore them.”