Data Protection Commissioner calls for a culture of improvement

Published: 21 January 2020

Forty-eight personal data breaches were reported to the Office of the Data Protection Authority (ODPA) in the two months leading up to 28 December 2019. Of the reported breaches, 39 were due to human error, highlighting again, how people’s action continues to be the biggest cause of personal data breaches locally. Information sent via email or post to the wrong person has consistently been the most common type of data breach reported since statutory reporting requirements came into effect. In response to this trend, the ODPA has recently been focussing on the role of human error in its events programme to help organisations and individuals understand and respond to the risks.

The Bailiwick’s Data Protection Commissioner, Emma Martins, notes that changing attitudes and behaviour is key to reducing data breaches and preventing harm.
‘These latest figures again illustrate how important it is for us all, whatever our role, to understand data protection as something more than an IT issue. We must focus on ensuring individuals’ rights are respected while also recognising the impact of human error when using personal data. It is unrealistic to expect people to never make any mistakes, but we can positively influence attitude and a culture in organisations where mistakes are learnt from, behaviours change as a result and the risk of future harm is reduced. ‘We do not seek a culture of blame, rather we seek a culture of improvement,’ added Mrs Martins.
The remaining self-reported breaches for the two month period fell into other categories including mislaid data, criminal, hacking, unauthorised access and unauthorised disclosure.

NOTES  This release is part of the bi-monthly breach report statistics the ODPA has been issuing since June 2018. Statutory breach reporting was one of the key changes to the local data protection law introduced in May 2018. The Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2017 (section 42) states that organisations are legally required to notify the ODPA of any personal data breach within 72 hours of becoming aware of it.  

Number of personal data breaches reported to ODPA
Breach criteria A personal data breach is defined in section 111(1) of the Law as any incident that meets the following criteria: “a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed”. 

There will likely be a breach whenever any personal data is accidentally lost, corrupted or disclosed, or if someone accesses it or passes it on without proper authorisation to do so. However, organisations do not have to report any incidents that meet the above criteria if the incident is ‘unlikely’ to result in a risk to the ‘significant interests’ of any person whose data has been affected by the incident.

It can be difficult, and sometimes inappropriate, for organisations themselves to judge whether there is a risk to a person’s significant interests, so the ODPA encourages all incidents to be reported. ‘Significant interests’ explained A person’s ‘significant interests’ are defined in the local Law as any aspect of their life that could be put at risk due to their personal data being breached. This could include their physical safety, their reputation, and could extend to placing them at risk of identity theft, fraud, financial loss, psychological distress or humiliation.