HomeInsightsInformation Commissioner’s Office fines the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse £200,000 for revealing identities of possible abuse victims in mass email

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The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, (IICSA) has been fined £200,000 by the ICO after sending a bulk email that identified possible victims of non-recent child sexual abuse.

The Inquiry, set up in 2014 to investigate the extent to which institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse breached the Data Protection Act 1998 by not keeping confidential and sensitive personal information secure.

On 27 February 2017, an IICSA staff member sent a blind carbon copy (bcc) email to 90 Inquiry participants telling them about a public hearing.  After noticing an error in the email, a correction was sent but email addresses were entered into the “to” field, instead of the “bcc” field by mistake.  This allowed the recipients to see each other’s email addresses, identifying them as possible victims of child sexual abuse.

Fifty-two of the email addresses contained the full names of the participants or had a full name label attached.

The Inquiry was alerted to the breach by a recipient of the email who entered two further email addresses into the “to” field before clicking on “Reply All”.

The Inquiry then sent three emails asking the recipients to delete the original email and not to circulate further.  One of these emails generated 39 “Reply All” emails.

The ICO investigation found:

  • the Inquiry failed to use an email account that could send a separate email to each participant;
  • the Inquiry failed to provide staff with any (or any adequate) guidance or training on the importance of double checking that the participant’s email addresses were entered into the “bcc” field;
  • the Inquiry hired an IT company to manage the mailing list and relied on advice from the company that it would prevent individuals from replying to the entire list;
  • in July 2017 a recipient clicked on “Reply All” in response to an email from the Inquiry, via the mailing list, and revealed their email to the entire list; and
  • The Inquiry breached their own privacy notice by sharing participants’ emails addresses with the IT company without their consent.

To read the ICO press release in full and for a link to the monetary penalty notice, click here.