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Information Commissioner ‘sounds the alarm’ on data breaches within the legal profession

ICO publishes ‘top tips’ to help lawyers keep personal information safe

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is warning barristers and solicitors to keep personal information secure, especially paper files. This follows a number of data breaches reported to the ICO involving the legal profession.

The ICO can serve a monetary penalty of up to £500,000 for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act provided the incident had the potential to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to affected individuals. In most cases these penalties are issued to companies or public authorities, but barristers and solicitors are generally classed as data controllers in their own right and are therefore legally responsible for the personal information they process.

In the last three months, 15 incidents involving members of the legal profession have been reported to the ICO. Since the information handled by barristers and solicitors is often very sensitive, the damage caused by a data breach could meet the statutory threshold for issuing a financial penalty. Legal professionals will also often carry around large quantities of information in folders or files when taking them to or from court, and may store them at home. This can increase the risk of a data breach.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

"The number of breaches reported by barristers and solicitors may not seem that high, but given the sensitive information they handle, and the fact that it is often held in paper files rather than secured by any sort of encryption, that number is troubling. It is important that we sound the alarm at an early stage to make sure this problem is addressed before a barrister or solicitor is left counting the financial and reputational damage of a serious data breach.
"We have published some top tips to help barristers and solicitors look after the personal information they handle. These measures will set them on the road to compliance and help them get the basics right."

The ICO has published the following top tips to help barristers and solicitors keep the personal information they handle secure.

The ICO is currently working with The Bar Council to update the Information Security Guidance provided to Barristers in England and Wales.

The ICO website includes further guidance on the security measures that should be in place when handling personal information. The ICO has also published a blog explaining the importance of encryption and the options available to barristers and solicitors who need to encrypt their data.

7/8/14