Public bodies ‘guilty of dozens of data breaches per month’

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Trust in government departments put at risk as civil servants access people’s data inappropriately

With public bodies storing vast volumes of information regarding the population’s health backgrounds, benefit entitlements and various other records, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme has revealed that a number of government departments have been responsible for a significant range of data offenses.

According to the Independent, employees at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are being reproached at a rate of almost five a day for failing to adhere to the rules for accessing and using the service’s database.

The statistics were obtained after a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, which also found that the Department of Health (DoH) reported 13 cases per month of staff illegally accessing medical records.

"Medical records are private and any abuse of their confidentiality is deplorable. Individuals have a right to know that their personal information is protected," said a statement released by the DoH.

While data protection and confidentiality guidelines appear to be failing, the fear is that many employees are accessing files to sell to private investigators – exposing people’s sensitive information and risking the reputation of public bodies.

And as the government relies on the trust of the public when it comes to storing such extensive records regarding various aspects of their lives, it seems that more has to be done to properly protect the population’s details in order for an effective security system to be guaranteed.

Ranging from more serious offenses such as clear breaches of the Data Protection Act to inappropriately accessing the records of benefits claimants, 1,172 civil servants were disciplined between April 2010 and last March, revealing the extent to which the confidentiality of government databases has been compromised. 

"The NHS takes protecting individual privacy extremely seriously and if any member of staff is discovered intentionally breaching this, they will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action," the DoH’s statement also said.

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