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Force says £80k fine for bulk email to abuse victims is 'unjustified'


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An officer forgot to enter email addresses under blind copy.

Force says £80k fine for bulk email to abuse victims is 'unjustified'

A police force is considering an appeal against an £80,000 fine issued after an officer sent a bulk email identifying victims of non-recent child abuse.

The email was sent to 56 recipients by an officer from Gloucestershire Police who was investigating allegations of abuse against multiple complainants.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the unnamed officer, whose rank was not revealed, was sending an update on the case in December 2016 to complainants, witnesses, lawyers and journalists.

However, Gloucestershire Police insisted the message was not sent to journalists and lawyers and said it was considering appealing the fine.

A force spokesman said: "The Constabulary understands its information security responsibilities and measures have been put in place to minimise the chances of this happening again.

"Notwithstanding this, we are disappointed by the ICO's decision.

"The officer in the case had previously carried out their duties to keep all parties informed but on this occasion made a mistake by copying, rather than blind copying, the email addresses of all recipients.

"The officer immediately informed their manager and apologised to those affected and the matter was self-referred to the ICO.

"Many of those affected were supportive. Given this, we are considering an appeal."

Entering the email addresses in the "To" field rather than using the blind carbon copy mention meant they were shared with other recipients.

The email also made reference to schools and other organisations being investigated in relation to the 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.

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the Information Commissioner's Office, 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.

The maximum financial penalty in civil cases under the previous legislation is £500,000.

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