Town hall in new data blunder

Council chiefs are probing another serious data loss - Social Services bosses have revealed that a computer memory stick containing sensitive and confidential information of more than 200 disabled residents has been lost.

They have spent the last 48 hours individually contacting every person listed to reassure them that everything possible is being done to protect their identities from potential theft and fraud.

Ten residents with "more challenging needs" and their carers and parents have now received visits from trained Adult Services staff.

Although names, dates of birth, ethnicity and type of disability and some national insurance numbers plus employment details have been included, the Metro insisted today that no financial information or addresses of individuals was on the stick.

Metro chiefs today declined to confirm or deny rumours it may have been lost on a train.

But the leader of the independent Conservative Group Coun Gareth Fairhurst branded the latest data loss "yet another embarrassment for the Metro".

He said: "The question does now need to be asked, how safe are all our details?"

Town hall staff believed to have been responsible were acting in breach of the council's policies in using the memory stick for this information, revealed executive director of health and wellbeing Bernard Walker, and a disciplinary investigation has now been launched.

The revelation follows the theft of a laptop from Progress House last year containing personal information on more than 33,000 borough children.

In the ensuing probe, chief executive Joyce Redfearn was required to give an official undertaking to the Information Commissioner on steps that would reduce the risk of further loss of such information.

And the council now say that action was accordingly taken to encrypt all laptops which were likely to be used for personal data.

In addition, the Metro's policies about not using mobile devices such as memory sticks and pen drives for personal information, were again highlighted to all staff.

Mr Walker said that the council were taking the incident and its consequences "extremely seriously indeed".

He said: "There has unfortunately been another significant loss of personal information following the loss of a memory stick which was being used to transfer information about individuals from the Supported Employment Team in Adult Services to a body that provided funding for that service.

"The memory stick was actually lost on route back from Stockport where that agency was based.

"The council is under a duty to advise the Information Commissioner and that has been done.

"Although I believe that the council has taken all reasonable steps to comply with its undertaking, following the latest loss of data, I can confirm that the council has introduced a complete ban on the use of memory sticks and pen drives for any purpose until a long-term solution is identified.

"This may involve the encryption of a number of memory sticks but the ban on the use of memory sticks for personal data will remain."

He said that the programme of encryption for laptops will include all laptops and this is to be extended now to cover councillor's own laptops.

Opposition coun Gareth Fairhurst said: "The council say that the person(s) involved were acting against policy but how could someone take a stick in and plug it into the USB and be allowed to download?

"I have worked for employers, and still do, where even if I put a stick in I cannot download information on to it."