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Victims of domestic abuse put at risk of harm by data breaches

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a stark warning to organisations that handle personal data, following a string of incidents which have put victims of domestic abuse at serious risk of harm.

Since July 2022, the ICO has issued reprimands to seven different organisations for data breaches which have caused harm to victims of domestic abuse.

The cases include incidents where the addresses of domestic abuse victims have been leaked to their alleged abuser, and the identities of women seeking information about their partners being leaked to those partners.

The organisations responsible for the data breaches were not directly named by the ICO in their report, though they are said to include a law firm, a housing association, an NHS trust, a government department, local councils and a police service.

Since this, however, Wakefield Council have been revealed as one of the organisations responsible for a domestic abuse data breach after court documents revealing the addresses of vulnerable family members were released.

The precise causes of the incidents have not been revealed, though the ICO has disclosed that inadequate staff training and a lack of robust procedures for safely handling personal information were common themes.

The dangers facing victims of domestic abuse who are exposed to data breaches are extremely serious, highlighting just how vital it is for organisations to take every possible measure to keep this type of data secure and out of the hands of any unauthorised third parties.

Legal Director at Hayes Connor, Christine Sabino, has said the report from the ICO highlights a worrying pattern that must come to an end urgently: “The report paints a bleak picture.

“An internal investigation at Wakefield Council revealed that the cause of their breach was a failure by a social worker. The fact that this is not an isolated incident, and is instead a continuing pattern amongst local councils, demonstrates a clear lack of measures in place to prevent these types of breaches from occurring.

“With human error the number one cause of data breaches, it is clear that urgent changes are needed to avoid such detrimental slip-ups, thus providing more robust protections to victims of domestic abuse. This isn’t just a matter of leaked data amounting to fraud and theft, this is a matter of life and death for the victims.

“As such, we urge councils to prioritise training their employees regularly on the importance of data protection, and how they can avoid a breach, to mitigate the erosion of public faith in these institutions.

“At Hayes Connor, we deal with a large number of these types of cases, and they are becoming more and more common, which is borne out by the ICO report. We are pleased that the ICO are now taking a more robust approach to these type of data breaches, which cause significant distress, fear of harm and in a lot of cases result in families having to flee for their safety.”

As specialists in providing support to victims of domestic abuse data breaches, the team at Hayes Connor will be able to lend their support should you have any concerns about the security of your personal data.

As a firm, we have previous experience with a range of issues stemming from domestic violence data breaches. This includes cases where individuals have been forced to move home, have instructed the police, or have had to move their children to a new school as a result of their data being breached.

What to do if you are concerned about a domestic violence data breach

Every organisation has a strict legal obligation to keep your personal data secure whenever they store, process or use it in any capacity. This remains true for every individual, regardless of their personal circumstances and whether they may be in a vulnerable position.

Anyone whose data has been compromised should be contacted by the responsible organisation. It goes without saying that victims of domestic abuse should be made aware immediately if their data is compromised for any reason.

If you are a domestic abuse victim and you have reason to believe that your data has been compromised, it is vital that you get in touch with the responsible organisation to gain clarity on the situation.

In addition to taking any necessary steps to protect both you and your family, you could be in a position to make a claim for compensation after experiencing such a distressing event. This is where the support of our dedicated data breach solicitors will prove invaluable.

How Hayes Connor can support domestic abuse data breach victims

The consequences of a data breach can be serious in any context. For victims of domestic abuse, data breaches can provide a genuine risk of harm to both themselves and their loved ones.

At Hayes Connor, our team have specialist expertise in supporting victims of domestic abuse who have had their data exposed in a breach. As such, we will treat your situation with the utmost sensitivity and urgency.

We strive to make the entire claims process as straightforward as possible, while also securing you maximum compensation. Our data breach experts have an excellent track record of securing the maximum compensation for our clients, often without the need for court proceedings.

Use our simple and secure online claim form to inform us of the details of your situation and our team will get back to you shortly to let you know whether we can help.

To speak to a member of our team now about what to do if your personal details have been exposed in a domestic violence data breach, please call us on 0330 041 5130.