Personal details of 15,000 South Lanarkshire Council staff published online in error

A union has said it will support legal action over a data breach which saw the personal details of around 15,000 council employees published online in error.

The GMB union said it will back any members at South Lanarkshire Council taking action if they suffered any financial loss as a result of the breach.

The council has confirmed a spreadsheet containing information about job titles, salaries and national insurance numbers was included in a freedom of information request about staff pay grades.

The local authority said it was a “human error” that the spreadsheet contained data that had not been anonymised.

This was spotted by the council, which said it arranged for the data to be removed.

But the data was available on the popular freedom of information website What Do They Know for around a month.

The breach also affects ex-employees as it included the data of those who worked for the local authority prior to 2021.

One ex-employee of the council told the PA news agency they thought the local authority was trying to sweep the breach under the carpet.

She said: “A lot of people aren’t happy about it.

“They said they have asked the person to wipe it, but it’s five or six weeks too late.

“The council is trying to brush it under the carpet.

“There are a lot of people going to take legal advice and I’m one of them.

“The information is enough for any fraudster to use anything. Once they have your national insurance number, that’s all they need.

“What concerns me is, if that had been anybody else, we would get disciplined or sacked.”

The former council worker has called for those affected to be compensated.

She added: “They said the person has destroyed it, but how do we know that?

“The council are viewing this as low risk, but this isn’t low risk. Not in this day and age.”

GMB organiser Ude Adigwe said staff are right to be concerned and deserve more than assurances that such an error will not happen again.

He said: “This is a very concerning incident and poses serious questions about the council’s data management processes.

“Staff deserve more than a simply assurance from the council that policies and procedures have been tightened.

“They deserve an investigation, the fullest possible explanation of how this happened and to be told exactly what measures are being taken to stop it happening again.”

A spokesperson for South Lanarkshire Council said: “A spreadsheet containing anonymised employee data was uploaded to a website in response to a freedom of information request.

“Unfortunately as a result of human error, the spreadsheet contained a second page of personal data that had not been anonymised. The error was noticed by the council and we arranged for that data to be removed.

“To the best of our knowledge the information was not accessed, and we believe the data could not be used in a way that would be harmful to those involved.

“However, I can confirm that we are contacting those affected by the error and we have reported the breach to the Information Commissioner.”

Scottish Labour MSP Katy Clark, who recently held a consultation on reforming Freedom of Information in Scotland, said: “Whilst this specific example has been blamed on human error, the fact is that poor performance and practice around FOI are systemic issues across much of the public sector.

“In many cases, staff haven’t been trained in basic data protection, let alone how to handle complex FOI requests. There are also ramifications for personal safety: Scottish local authorities have recorded more than 10,000 data breaches over the last five years alone.

“Managing requests is vitally important and requires professionalism and expertise.

“That is why as part of my member’s bill I am proposing the introduction of a new statutory role of Freedom of Information Officer across public bodies to ensure all designated bodies understand the importance of compliance with FOI and the need to manage risk in terms of legal compliance and public reputation.”

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