Gloucestershire Police has been fined £80,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after sending a bulk email that identified victims of non-recent child abuse.
The force was at the time investigating allegations of abuse relating to multiple victims. On 19 December 2016, an officer sent an update on the case to 56 recipients by email but entered their email addresses in the ‘To’ field and did not activate the ‘BCC’ function, which would have prevented their details from being shared with others.
Each recipient of the e-mail – which potentially included victims, witnesses, lawyers and journalists – could see the full names and e-mail addresses of all the others. The email also made reference to schools and other organisations being investigated in relation to the abuse allegations.
Of the 56 emails sent, all but one was considered deliverable. Three were confirmed to have been successfully recalled once the force identified the breach two days later, so 56 names and email addresses were visible to up to 52 recipients.
ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said:
“This was a serious breach of the data protection laws and one which was likely to cause substantial distress to vulnerable victims of abuse, many of whom were also legally entitled to lifelong anonymity.
“The risks relating to the sending of bulk emails are long established and well known, so there was no excuse for the force to break the law – especially when such sensitive and confidential information was involved.”
The case was dealt with under the provisions and maximum penalties of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the 2018 Act which has replaced it, because of the date of the breach.