Council data loss scandal in Hertfordshire risks personal details for 14,000 voters

Laptops containing personal information relating to over 14,000 people have been stolen from a local council in Hertfordshire. It is believed that a total of seven laptops have been taken without consent, allegedly by a single individual, although only the most recent loss of four devices is believed to present a serious data risk.

The 14,673 affected members of the public have been notified after a review by St Albans and Harpenden established that their names, addresses and signatures were stored on the stolen laptops. The data comprises scanned applications made for postal votes in the run up to the local elections in June.

According to a statement from a council spokesperson, the stolen laptops have a dual layer security system to limit access to the data they contain and as such there is only a small risk that the data could be used maliciously.

Data security and IT is handled for the council by Northgate Information Solutions and a combined effort is being made to get to the bottom of the thefts. It is hoped that the internal investigation and the written apologies will allow the council to rebuild public confidence in its ability to protect data.

IT security expert Nick Lowe expressed his doubts about the benign nature of the stolen data. Lowe believes that because signatures and names are included there is a higher likelihood that identity theft and fraud could result from the loss.

Lowe also used statistics, gathered by security firm Check Point after a recent survey, to once more highlight the complacency with which businesses and organisations in the UK address data protection. Nearly 40% of the respondents admitted that they did not use any form of encryption to protect their data.

Whether the most recent incident of data theft in Hertfordshire was protected by suitable encryption remains unclear. Experts continue to be concerned by each new incidence of data loss or theft and the statistics suggest that there is still some way to go before even the most basic of universal standards for data protection are met.

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