Student Journalist sparks confidential Hackney Council data leak

Sensitive data remains in the hands of local paper journalist, who requested the FOI,

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What began as a simple Freedom of Information request to Hackney Homes, resulted in 15,000 Hackney Homes tenants and leaseholders personal information laid bare for all to view on the internet for 11 days, before the blunder was brought to the attention of Hackney Council.

Personal information released included addresses, sexuality, ethnicity, date of birth, start date of tenancy, housing benefit account details and rent accounts, were published on the web site – What Do They Know. The security breach was noticed on November 25, however those affected were not informed until December 17, when letters were sent, outlining the error.

Hackney council while admitting the faux pas, is at the same time downplaying the security breach, by explaining to residents affected “they doubt the information was widely distributed because only 11 people viewed it”.

In a statement released on their site, they claim the sensitive information “were not visible to a causal viewer of the document, but were cached within it. This means that an earlier version of the document – which contained the sensitive information – was accessible to those with detailed IT knowledge who could potentially manipulate the spreadsheet to reveal the information”.

The letter Hackney Homes sent to residents stated: “We believe that it is unlikely that the information has become widely distributed. This is because we know that the file (and Excel spreadsheet) was only viewed 11 times and the information was not immediately visible.

“We have acted quickly to remove the information and have referred the incident to the Information Commissioner’s Office. We are continuing to investigate how this happened in the first place and to ensure that it could not happen again. The Information Commissioners Office will be conducting their own separate investigation”.

“News” of the blunder was first reported by Hackney Gazette yesterday, and described as an “Exclusive” by its author, Fiona Parker. The City University MA Journalism student and freelancer wrote But the data remains in the hands of the person who requested the FOI, and residents affected said they have been left vulnerable and in fear of identity theft”.

She should know, since the person who requested the FOI in none other than her buddy, fellow City University MA Journalism student and freelancer who also writes for the Hackney Gazette – Jessica McKay.

McKay originally made a request for information on Hackney Homes evictions from 2011 to 2014 on 30 October and has made other similar requests in the past. Earlier this month Hackney Gazette published her report on how Hackney schools spent over £6m on supply teachers from September 2013 and July 2014.

So now that Jessica McKay retains the confidential information on 15,000 Hackney Home residents, what does she plan to do with it and who else has access to it? Hackney Gazette, City University Journalism school?

McKay hasn’t been very forthcoming. While attempting to verify she was the same Jessica McKay who made the FOI request,  she threatened to report me to the police. That pretty much confirmed she was the person holding on to confidential data.

In the mean time Hackney Council are warning people to be wary of scams and identity theft. Has someone told them they don’t have to look further than their noses. All roads lead to Jessica McKay.

Hackney Council is not the only local authority to make such a blunder.  Islington Council did so twice, and were fine £70,000

About Remi

Remi Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday, who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned, happy to put an unconventional and risqué past behind her. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and proprietor of London’s finest and long established pet sitting service. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.

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