GDPR Fine for Charity E Mail Blunder


A Scottish charity has been issued with a £10,000 monetary penalty notice following the inadvertent disclosure of personal data by email. 

On 18th October, HIV Scotland was found to have breached the security provisions of the UK GDPR, namely Articles 5(1)(f) and 32, when it sent an email to 105 people which included patient advocates representing people living with HIV. All the email addresses were visible to all recipients, and 65 of the addresses identified people by name. From the personal data disclosed, an assumption could be made about individuals’ HIV status or risk. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is urging organisations to revisit their bulk email practices after its investigation found shortcomings in HIV Scotland’s email procedures. These included inadequate staff training, incorrect methods of sending bulk emails by blind carbon copy (bcc) and an inadequate data protection policy. It also found that despite HIV Scotland’s own recognition of the risks in its email distribution and the procurement of a system which enables bulk messages to be sent more securely, it was continuing to use the less secure bcc method seven months after the incident.

On the point of training, HIV Scotland confirmed to the ICO that employees are expected to complete the “EU GDPR Awareness for All” on an annual basis.  The ICO recommended that staff should receive induction training “prior to accessing personal data and within one month of their start date.” Act Now’s e learning course, GDPR Essentials, is designed to teach employees about the key provisions of GDPR and how to keep personal data safe. The course is interactive with a quiz at the end and can be completed in just over 30 minutes. Click here to watch a preview. 

HIV Scotland was also criticised for not having a specific policy on the secure handling of personal data within the organisation. It relied on its privacy policy which was a public facing statement covering points such as cookie use, and data subject access rights; this provided no guidance to staff on the handling of personal and what they must do to ensure that it is kept secure. The Commissioner expects an organisation handling personal data, to maintain policies regarding, amongst other things, confidentiality (see our GDPR policy pack).

This is an interesting case and one which will not give reassurance to the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland which had to apologise last week for sharing the email addresses and, in some cases ,the names of more than 200 service users. The agency deals confidentially with sensitive labour disputes between employees and employers. It said it had issued an apology to recipients and was currently taking advice from the ICO.

Interestingly the ICO also referenced in its ruling, the fact that HIV Scotland made a point of commenting on a similar error by another organisation 8 months prior. In June 2019, NHS Highland disclosed the email addresses of 37 people who were HIV positive. It is understood the patients in the Highlands were able to see their own and other people’s addresses in an email from NHS Highland inviting them to a support group run by a sexual health clinic. At the time HIV Scotland described the breach as “unacceptable”. 

The HIV Scotland fine is the second one the ICO has issued to a charity in the space of 4 months. On 8th July 2021, the transgender charity Mermaids was fined £25,000 for failing to keep the personal data of its users secure. The ICO found that Mermaids failed to implement an appropriate level of security to its internal email systems, which resulted in documents or emails containing personal data being searchable and viewable online by third parties through internet search engine results.

Charities need to consider these ICO fines very carefully and ensure that they have polices, procedures and training in place to avoid enforcement action by the ICO. 

This and other GDPR developments will be discussed in detail on our forthcoming GDPR Update workshop. We have a few places left on our Advanced Certificate in GDPR Practice course starting in January.

About actnowtraining

Act Now Training Ltd specialise in information law. We have been providing training and consultancy services globally for over 17 years. We have an extensive GDPR and FOI course programme from live and recorded webinars, accredited foundation through to higher level certificate courses delivered throughout the country or at your premises.



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