Mass of complaints over St Albans council laptop data theft
PUBLISHED: 15:01 19 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010
THE THEFT of a council laptop which stored personal data on all St Albans district postal voters has sparked a barrage of complaints from worried residents. The data on the stolen laptop, one of four taken from the district council offices in St Peter s
THE THEFT of a council laptop which stored personal data on all St Albans district postal voters has sparked a barrage of complaints from worried residents.
The data on the stolen laptop, one of four taken from the district council offices in St Peter's Street last Monday (November 9), includes the names, addresses, dates of births and signatures of over 14,500 district residents.
The incident is being treated by the council and police as an opportunistic theft as all four laptops were stored in what leader of the district council Cllr Robert Donald described as "an area protected by electronic security". There is no evidence that the building had been broken into.
In a letter delivered this week to all affected residents, council chief executive Daniel Goodwin admitted that there was "a small risk" of the data - which was not encrypted - being accessed and used fraudulently.
Since the delivery of Mr Goodwin's letter the council has taken over 400 calls from residents and responded to around 50 emails of complaint. The Herts Advertiser has also been bombarded with calls.
Tory Group Leader Cllr Julian Daly who works in a top London bank is one of the 14,673 affected residents. He said that he was "troubled" by the situation and added: "All the information is there to set up a bank account, so it is safe to say that we are in the territory of identity theft. I would certainly advise people to stay on their guard."
Sam Evans of St Albans received the letter on Monday morning and said that she was "disgusted" by the council's mistake: "I'm appalled by what's happened and I just can't believe that the council didn't even bother to encrypt such vital information. It's a disgrace and now I have to worry about who might have access to my personal data."
Andy Hayes of St Albans was particularly concerned about his 82-year-old father, who also lives in the city: "When you are in your 80s a scandal such as this is obviously going to cause you a tremendous amount of stress. I'm also worried because, at his age, my father could be an easy target for identity theft."
Nick Rich, of Wendover Close in Harpenden, alluded to the "serious consequences" of the scandal in his letter of complaint to Daniel Goodwin and questioned why, "this sort of data was stored on a portable computer in the first place".
Mr Goodwin has already ordered an internal investigation and apologised to all those affected by the theft. In a statement yesterday, he said: "We have been keen to be as open and forthcoming about the loss of the laptop as we can and have written to everyone involved to explain the circumstances of the theft and to reassure them that any risk is thought to be minimal."
Cllr Donald, who said the information had to be held on a portable laptop so it could be used to verify postal votes on election night to prevent fraud, added: "I have required that the results of the internal investigation that has already been instigated must be reported to the December 8 Cabinet meeting and that this should contain clear recommendations on how this can be prevented from ever happening again.