Transgender Rights Charity Mermaids fined £25,000 by the ICO for data protection breaches

It is unfortunate at times that some charities which do the most sensitive of work also hold the most sensitive data. It makes data protection compliance all the more critical. Unfortunately, the transgender rights charity Mermaids has fallen afoul of data protection laws in the creation of a email group that was not sufficiently annexed or encrypted to protect the data it contained.

The result was that the 780 email pages were identifiable online over a period of three years. This led to the personal information of 550 people to be searchable online. Furthermore. the personal data of 24 of those people revealed how they were coping and feeling. Finally, for a further 15 classified as special category data as mental and physical health and sexual orientation were exposed.

Steve Eckersley, Director of Investigations at the ICO said:

“The very nature of Mermaids’ work should have compelled the charity to impose stringent safeguards to protect the often vulnerable people it works with. Its failure to do so subjected the very people it was trying to help to potential damage and distress and possible prejudice, harassment or abuse.

“As an established charity, Mermaids should have known the importance of keeping personal data secure and, whilst we acknowledge the important work that charities undertake, they cannot be exempt from the law.”

This serves a warning call for charities who process sensitive personal data – under the GDPR and the framework of self reporting you need to have appropriate technical measures in place. Failure to do so puts users data at risk and leaves them vulnerable. Mermaids penalty was imposed for the data being at risk for the period of 25 May 2018 to 14 June 2019.

It is notable that Mermaids data protection policies and procedures were not updated to reflect GDPR standards. Post the implementation of the Data Protection Act 2018 data protection practices are taking increasing importance and a robust review with practical changes to data harvesting, management, retention and rights handling is now a necessity.

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