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Northmavine parents lodge SIC privacy complaint

Angry members of the Urafirth parent council. From left: Clare Pottinger, Robin Sinclair, Pamela Ruddick, Liane Anderson, Charlene Johnston and Claire Herridge - Photo: Pete Bevington/Shetland News

PARENTS in Northmavine have lodged a formal complaint about what they describe as a “blatant breach” of data protection during a school closure consultation, and are calling on Shetland Islands Council to “ensure our privacy is taken seriously”.

Last week the local authority issued an apology after personal details relating to “a small number of individuals” were inadvertently published within material relating to its consultation on whether Urafirth Primary School should remain open.

But Urafirth Parent Council says it has now unearthed information showing the breach is more serious than first thought, and actually affects “every child in school, nursery and pre nursery in the entire Northmavine area”.

The formal complaint is now being investigated by SIC chief executive Mark Boden.

The parent council met on Monday night to discuss their options having discovered that information including children’s names and the distance they live from the school was “still available online to anyone that has even the most basic of IT skills”.

Urafirth Primary School. Photo: Richard Webb (licenced for reuse under creative commons)

Speaking on behalf of the parent council, its chairwoman Claire Herridge said the episode left the community without “any faith or trust” in the consultation process.

She said the new discovery was reported to an SIC councillor and passed onto Boden first thing on Monday morning, but “as yet no attempt has been made to contact us regarding this and the information is still available online”.

Meanwhile, following a basic search of the SIC website another member of the parent council came across a redacted copy of a 2011 Northmavine schools consultation response sent from an individual “with the name and address clearly visible to everyone”.

“How many other data protection issues are live online?” Herridge asked.

“What the council don’t seem to understand is that when something goes online it’s extremely difficult to fully remove again, even if the document is taken down from the council website.

“Once you publish anyone could be in possession of these documents. Parents are extremely upset that we are forced through this process with our children’s data, and by the council not making contact with us, we are treated almost like it is our fault this has happened. The pressure of this is paralysing.”

Herridge said the parent council had contacted someone within Police Scotland who had advised them it was “potentially a very serious child protection issue as well as a data protection issue”.

She said parents felt they had been “brushed aside regarding these serious breaches” and they are intent on “following this through every avenue of law available”.

“It’s almost like if we were ignored then the problem will go away,” Herridge continued. “The time has passed now for simple apologies. Immediate and decisive action must be taken by council officials and councillors.”

She said it was not only a “serious breach of the council’s own policies” but a “gross misconduct issue”.

“Whoever was in charge and sanctioned this to be published online should be terminated from their position forthwith. How was this not checked when it was published online by the person in charge? How can anyone ever trust the council again with personal data?”

Herridge added that parents had only a week left to respond to the “vast” consultation document on the future of Urafirth’s primary, but “instead we’re having to use valuable time to deal with the education department’s massive blunder just to ensure our privacy is taken seriously”.

SIC education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart said that chief executive Boden was dealing with the parents’ grievance.

“The council takes all complaints regarding data handling very seriously,” she said. “I am aware that we have received a formal complaint, which the chief executive is handling.

“That process will include investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the issues being raised.”