The UK’s Information Commissioners office has created a list of 5 useful tips for protecting personally identifiable information (PII).

The list comes on the back of an offer by the ICO to help charities and other third sector organisations to help them protect data and avoid potential fines of up to £500,000.

Louise Byers, Head of Good Practice at the ICO, said:

“We are aware that charities are often handling extremely sensitive information relating to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. With these organisations often lacking the money to employ dedicated information governance staff, there’s a danger that many charities may be struggling to look after people’s data.

“We have published today’s top five areas for improvement to show the voluntary and charity sector that good data protection practices can be cheap and easy to introduce, providing they have the right help and support.

“A one day advisory visit from the ICO provides charities with a data protection ‘check up’ and practical advice on how they can look after people’s information. We are now calling on these organisations to use the summer period to check that their data protection practices are adequate and get in touch before it is too late.”

Sam Younger, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission said:

“Trustees are responsible for ensuring their charity complies with relevant legislation – including the Data Protection Act – and for protecting their charity’s reputation. Mishandling sensitive data not only causes individuals serious distress, it can also damage the good name of your charity. So I encourage trustees of charities that handle sensitive data to take note of the ICO’s guidance and consider taking part in an ICO advisory visit.”

The ICO’s top five areas for improvement are:

  1. Tell people what you are doing with their data. People should know what you are doing with their information and who it will be shared with. This is a legal requirement (as well as established best practice) so it is important you are open and honest with people about how their data will be used.
  2. Make sure your staff are adequately trained. New employees must receive data protection training to explain how they should store and handle personal information. Refresher training should be provided at regular intervals for existing staff.
  3. Use strong passwords. There is no point protecting the personal information you hold with a password if that password is easy to guess. All passwords should contain upper and lower case letters, a number and ideally a symbol. This will help to keep your information secure from would-be thieves.
  4. Encrypt all portable devices. Make sure all portable devices – such as memory sticks and laptops – used to store personal information are encrypted.
  5. Only keep people’s information for as long as necessary. Make sure your organisation has established retention periods in place and set up a process for deleting personal information once it is no longer required.

I would like to add that whilst these tips are useful most businesses, especially charities, should review their requirements under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) as credit cards are the life blood to most organisations.

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