Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 11:32 UK

Council rapped over online data

Personal data was available on the New Forest council's website
Personal data was available on the New Forest council's website

A Hampshire council's policy of placing personal information online in relation to planning applications has been criticised as a gift to fraudsters.

Utility bills, phone numbers, email addresses and personal signatures are among details available on the New Forest District Council website.

That is despite a recommendation from the Information Commissioner in June that the council censor such details.

The council said it had begun removing signatures and unique information.

One resident - who gave his name as Kevin - said he had given evidence at a trial that lead to a violent yob going to prison.

But when he objected to an application for protection orders on trees that were damaging his property he found his personal details were uploaded on to the council's planning website.

The council is conscious of the sensitive nature of the situation relating to personal data
Statement
New Forest District Council

When he wrote to the council to ask that they remove the details, he said they even published that letter online.

"The council put my whole life on the internet for everyone to see," he said.

"My signature, email address, ex-directory home phone number and my health data... I was shocked at the level of the data protection blunders.

"I live in fear of reprisal attacks and the council won't remove the data."

Another resident, Peter, said: "I needed planning permission and it's proper that the public can see that, but when my signature was available on the internet I thought it was very worrying. It could be copied.

"Peter" said he was surprised to see his signature online
"Peter" said he was surprised to see his signature online

"I was surprised and upset."

By law, local councils are obliged to make planning applications public including any letters of support or objection, and notify the relevant parties.

In the past this has included local newspaper adverts and notices at the premises in question. It now includes publishing applications online.

Following a complaint that the council breached the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner ruled: "While specific regulations may allow local authorities to make planning applications publicly available, not all of the details provided by applicants have to be published.

"There is a strong indication that New Forest District Council has failed to comply with the first principle [of the Data Protection Act 1998] in this case."

In a statement, the council said it took its responsibilities "very seriously" in regard to personal data it holds and claimed that details about statutory applications had to be made public in their "entirety".

But it added: "The council is conscious of the sensitive nature of the situation relating to personal data and has taken steps to ensure that any details about an individual are kept to an absolute minimum and that signatures and other unique information are not now available for public scrutiny."


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