Published: 3 August, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
A SINGLE-MOTHER who has had her personal details leaked twice in four months by Islington Council told this week of the devastating effect it has had on the lives of her and her children.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said she felt “violated” by the council. The revelation that some people have had their personal details leaked in both of the recent serious data breaches, comes as the Town Hall launches a root and branch overhaul of its systems.
She is one of two single-mums who spoke out this week after having their details leaked.
Lib Dem councillor Greg Foxsmith, who represents both women, claimed the problem was almost “systemic” at the Town Hall.
“It affects people’s confidence,” he said. “I’ve been in touch with a woman whose details were leaked in both breaches. She says she feels violated by the council. She has lost all confidence in the council’s handling of her private details.”
In April the names and addresses of more than 50 people who had complained about anti-social behaviour were handed to troublemakers.
And last week it was revealed that the names, addresses, marital status and sexual orientation of almost 2,400 people had been published online.
Yesterday (Thursday) Labour’s crime chief Councillor Paul Convery accepted that someone in the Town Hall may have realised their mistake over the second breach and tried to cover it up.
Lib Dem councillors have also challenged the official version of events which led to the leak.
The second leak happened when a Freedom of Information request put to the council through the website Whatdotheyknow?, run by mySociety, was published on the website on June 26.
A Town Hall officer had sent a spreadsheet giving statistics on the number of people who had applied for rehousing. But the it also contained the extra details of the 2,400 people in hidden form – but easily made visible to those familiar with the software.
In a statement issued last week the website said that shortly after sending out the data someone in the council tried unsuccessfully to recall it online. The officer then sent a “replacement FOI” response, which disguised sensitive data.
The statement read: “At no point on or after the 26th June did we receive any notification from Islington that problematic information had been released not once, but twice... Had we been told we would have been able to remove the information quickly.
“It was only by sheer good fortune that our volunteer happened to stumble across these documents some weeks later, and she handled the situation wonderfully, immediately hiding the data, asking Google to clear their cache, and alerting the rest of mySociety to the situation. This happened on the 14th July, a Saturday, and over the weekend mySociety staff, volunteers and trustees swung into action to formulate a plan.”
Yesterday Councillor Convery said that he accepted this version of events, but he added that the data had only been looked at seven times.
He also apologised to the woman who had her data leaked twice.
“I am very very sorry,” he said. “It is utterly incompetent. To not understand the extent of this is unforgivable. Nothing is being covered up. Somebody made an unprofessional blunder. It is staggering to find out that there’s a slackness of this scale in the very department that should be really hot on this kind of thing, people who deal with Freedom of Information requests.
“We are determined that this sort of thing simply must not happen again.
“We are going back and looking at our action plan. We are starting conversations with senior managers about how we can instil an understanding of data protection principles at the Town Hall.”
Solicitors Hodge Jones and Allen say they now have six people with whom they hope to take a group action against the council for breach of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees the right to privacy.
The Lib Dems are also concerned about the time-scales. They pointed out that although the Town Hall was informed on July 16 of the leak no public statement was made until July 25. In that gap Labour’s crime chief Councillor Paul Convery had been allowed to tell a scrutiny committee looking into April’s leak that data breaches were unlikely to happen again.
It was a further nine days before residents affected by the second leak were informed. The Lib Dems also say they are concerned that a Town Hall officer attempted to recall the spreadsheet document. A statement from the party added that 309 names were initially visible, despite claims that none of the names could be seen.
“To have two such serious data leaks within three months when leading Labour councillors promised there would be no more shows a stunning level of incompetence,” said Lib Dem leader Councillor Terry Stacy.
A SINGLE-MUM whose personal details were leaked in the second data breach gave a harrowing description this week of the shocking bullying she and her four-year-old daughter have received at the hands of her neighbours.
The woman, who believes the information was also put into the public domain two years ago, says the situation is so bad that she spends the day in a supermarket car park rather than be at home in the Hornsey Rise area.
She said she and her daughter were initially targeted because they had come from the Caledonian Road and “Cally girls and Hornsey girls don’t get on”.
“I knew nothing about that when I moved here,” she said.
She said neighbours – including adult women – shouted abuse at her and her child, including threatening to burn the house down.
They also kicked a “hard leather ball” into the child’s head and back, leaving her needing hospital treatment for soft-tissue damage of her spine. She claims neighbours also gathered outside the house one night to hurl insults and “bang the railings with tennis rackets”.
“It’s been going on for two years and the stress has left both myself and my daughter needing counselling,” she said.
“My daughter doesn’t sleep very well because she is frightened. She has to go to a nursery outside the borough.
“I complained to the council about anti-social behaviour but they said it was a police matter. The police say it’s for the council and my situation is the bottom of the list of their priorities.”
“Now I’ve received a letter saying my name is on a spreadsheet of people who are going to be rehoused – although they haven’t actually given me enough points to move. At first the council said no one had seen it.
“Now they say that some people did look at it. This has added to the stress.
“We’ve been targeted once because I’m from a different area. I’ve got a video of evidence but no one wants to look at it.
“After the first leak one of the neighbours said to me: ‘We don’t like people who go to the council’. So my details had got out. Then they came banging on my door saying there’ll be more trouble for me, that they don’t like people who dob them in to the council. How did they know it was me that had gone to the council?
“Then they came round and banged the railings with tennis rackets and shouted things at my daughter. They said, ‘We’ll get the bitch in the end’.
“We stay away from the house during the day because if we’re in, if the lights are on or the windows open, we get abuse. I’ve spent the day in Sainsbury’s car park rather than go home.”
Town Hall crime chief Councillor Paul Convery said: “We should be doing something about this. I’m shocked that this has been going on. I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that she is not bullied and intimidated.”