Most of the data breach incidents analysed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in a three-month period earlier this year concerned errors in the way personal information was disclosed, the watchdog has said.
The ICO said that it had looked at 335 data breach incidents between 1 April and 30 June 2013 and found that in 175 of the cases personal data had been "disclosed in error".
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"That covers everything from emails being sent to the wrong people to information erroneously included in freedom of information responses, but invariably they can be described as careless," Sally-Anne Poole, enforcement group manager of the civil investigations unit at the ICO, said in a blog.
Cases concerning lost or stolen paperwork (42), lost or stolen hardware (29) or a technical security failing (27) were the next most popular categories of data breach assessed by the ICO during the three month period.
In 14 cases, personal data either contained on paperwork or hardware had not been disposed of properly, whilst seven cases concerned the uploading of personal data to websites by mistake.
Organisations in the health and local government sectors were involved in 91 and 57 of the cases respectively, whilst organisations in the education sector were involved in 25 of the 335 data breach incidents the ICO looked at, according to the data published by the watchdog. Nine data breach cases involved financial advisers; five utilities companies; and two telecoms businesses.
Poole said that it was not surprising to see health and local government bodies top the list for data breaches, but said that rules on data breach notifications that organisations in those sectors are subject to may mean the statistics are "a little misleading".
"The NHS has their own rules that oblige any potential data breaches to be self-reported, while local government has similar guidelines. That means the two are always likely to be near the top of this table," she said. Under proposed new EU data protection laws tabled by the Commission, organisations would be generally required to report all personal data breaches to regulators "without undue delay" and, if possible, within 24 hours of becoming aware of them. Companies would also have to report data breaches that could adversely affect individuals without undue delay, under the Commission's plans.
Those plans have been met with criticism, with some business groups concerned about their ability to meaningfully report breaches within 24 hours. Proposed amendments tabled by EU Ministers would, if introduced, restrict the cases in which personal data breaches would have to be reported.
In June the European Commission announced that it had used "technical implementing measures" set out under the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-privacy) Directive to create a Regulation containing new data breach notification rules which all providers of publicly available electronic communications services would be subject to. Those rules could come into force as early as the end of this month.
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