Two London housing bodies are in trouble with privacy watchdogs after one of their contractors lost an unencrypted memory stick in a pub. The memory stick held data on 27,000 tenants of Lewisham Homes and Wandle Housing Association.
Privacy watchdogs revealed the unencrypted stick also held the tenants’ bank account details. Thankfully no harm was done because the lost stick was found by a Good Samaritan who handed it into the police. Despite this, both housing bodies have been publicly named and shamed over the lapse by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office). The two housing bodies have been ordered to improve their data security and ordered to make sure all portable devices which are used to store personal information on tenants are secure and encrypted.
Sally-Anne Poole, from the ICO, said “Saving personal information onto an unencrypted memory stick is as risky as taking hard copy papers out of the office. Luckily, the device was handed in, and there is no suggestion that the data was misused. But this incident could so easily have been avoided if the information had been properly protected. Using a memory stick to transport sensitive information may be convenient but it’s certainly not secure.”
Both housing organisations will now be subjected to a stricter monitoring regime by the information commission. They have apologised to all tenants and assured them it will not happen again. Tenants are angry that the property they rent and protect with household insurance could have been at risk if the memory stick had been found by a less honest person, had this happened the repercussions could have been severe. Newspapers have reported similar cases over the last few years and it does seem that data protection is still not taken seriously by many companies.