Leicester have joined the long list of city councils to fall foul of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after losing a USB stick which contained the medical details of around 4,000 elderly and vulnerable people. In addition the memory stick contained around 2,000 ‘keysafe’ codes, which are used to open boxes attached to the houses of vulnerable people containing a key to the front door. Leicester City Council was forced to explain the situation:
"We can confirm we are investigating the possible loss of a data device that contains personal details of around 4,000 LeicesterCare users. At this time we have no reason to believe this data has been removed deliberately. However, while we have been assured by our supplier the information on the device is not accessible to anyone who may find it, we are taking every precaution to maintain the security of our LeicesterCare users.”
The device went missing from the Leicestercare offices, a service designed to support elderly and vulnerable residents of the area. The council must now go through the laborious process of changing all 2,000 codes. According to council policy, the USB stick is never supposed to leave the office, and should have been locked in a safe each night. Staff suspect it has been lost somewhere in the office, but while its location remains a mystery they have no option but to update all the codes as fast as possible to reduce the risk of the information being abused. Local resident Angie Beale, 59, was disappointed with the lack of care shown for such dangerous information. Both her husband, Jack, 87, and disabled son Gordon, 39, are registered with LeicesterCare. She said:
"There's a keysafe outside my home in case my husband has a fall and I'm not around. I think it's disgusting they can lose something like that, especially with medical details that are personal."
Tony Donovan, chief executive of Age Concern in Leicestershire, expressed his concern:
"It's a very worrying situation. It will cause a lot of concern and worry for vulnerable people and their families. Any sort of database scandal is bad but it's particularly worrying when older people are put at risk. A keysafe code will get anyone through the front door of people's houses. I hope the city council sorts this out as soon as possible, but there is still the question of how this can happen."
It is shocking that greater care wasn’t taken with such sensitive information. In the wrong hands, the keysafe codes would allow thieves and burglars access to 2,000 homes without even having to break in. Those under the supervision of Leicestercare would expect better. Many of them are likely to suffer unnecessary stress if they suspect their houses are no longer secure. There must be a full investigation into how this breach of security occurred, so it cannot happen again.