Doctors face fines for poor data security

Doctors face fines for poor data security

Lose a laptop, pay through the nose

The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has argued for much tighter data protection laws in Britain, saying those who lose data should end up in court.

Speaking to the Lords’ Constitution Committee he said that those who knowingly or recklessly flouted data protection rules should be prosecuted. He suggested that fines of up to £5,000 should be levied.

“If a doctor, or hospital [employee] leaves a laptop containing patients’ records in his car and it is stolen, it is hard to see that is anything but gross negligence,” Thomas told the Lords the Times reports.

"The commission can currently issue enforcement notices but these “do not impose any element of punishment for wrongdoing.”

He said that one off cases should not be prosecuted but systemic abuse needed greater censure. He also proposed that companies should be inspected without warning for data security, rather than the current system which relies on consent.

"Given the recent spate of data breaches at NHS trusts, perhaps Richard Thomas's approach of hard compulsion is the only way to get the medical establishment to take this problem seriously," said Jamie Cowper, director of European marketing at PGP Corporation.

"However, by placing the emphasis on protecting the device - specifically laptops - rather than the confidential data itself, he could be accused of treating the symptoms of this problem, rather than providing a cure."

"What's more, it's not fair to expect doctors to be data security experts. Rather, to be entirely effective, the NHS should respond to the proposed legislation with both a programme of data security education and a systematic roll-out of data protection technology such as encryption."

Increasing use of mobile devices by government and industry is creating a big problem with data leakage. A recent survey of local councils found that barely half encrypted their data, even though over a third had lost a laptop.