The series of data security breaches that has seen the personal details of tens of millions of people lost is pushing Britain to a “tipping point” over how such records are handled, the information commissioner has warned.
Richard Thomas demanded “clearer accountability” and responsibility from organisations holding personal records following the loss of files by government departments and public bodies.
He was speaking as the NHS chief executive, David Nicholson, insisted that patients’ medical records were not at risk after it emerged that nine health trusts had lost the records of 168,000 people.
Nicholson said the security of the NHS patients’ database was “way beyond” that used for internet banking.
In the latest admission, the Post Office said it had apologised to thousands of pensioners after scores of customers were sent the wrong account statements.
Thomas, in a veiled criticism of the government, said failure to keep personal information secure put organisational credibility at risk and undermined public confidence and trust.
“Right across the piece people here have got to take personal information a great deal more seriously. In the last few months people have got to a tipping point where they are suddenly taking data protection far more seriously,” Thomas told the BBC.
“What this has brought home to everybody is the importance of clear accountability and responsibility to make sure to get it right.”
He warned data protection was about “credibility” and not just complying with the law.
The loss of medical records was “particularly sensitive” given the confidentiality enshrined in the doctor-patient relationship, he said.
Thomas has raised concerns with NHS managers about the government’s Connecting for Health project, which is intended to make patients’ records accessible by computer to NHS professionals across the country.
“They have got to be absolutely certain they have identified all the risks and are managing these very carefully indeed. Any mass loss of data from centralised databases would be very catastrophic, but medical information is of particular sensitivity,” he said.