Harrogate council apologises after publishing personal details
Last updated Nov 25, 2022
Arnold Warneken said the breach could deter people from taking part in consultations.

Harrogate Borough Council has apologised after leaking the personal details of people who commented on a consultation on its website.

The consultation over the proposed new settlement at Cattal, known as Maltkiln, has been open since October 3 and closes tonight.

However, one participant discovered this week that details which were redacted, including home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, could still be accessed by members of the public.

Roger Owen, chairman of community group Better Wetherby, said the group became aware on Wednesday that his personal details were accessible on the site and immediately contacted Harrogate Borough Council.

He said:

“This is a very serious breach. GDPR [General Data Protection Regulations] is there to safeguard individuals’ identities among other things. I know Harrogate council has only a few months left before a unitary authority is created in North Yorkshire, but that’s no reason to become sloppy.

“Social media engenders sometimes extreme views and it makes it easy for people to get on the backs of those they don’t agree with. People can have extreme views on contentious matters such as Maltkiln and GDPR is there to prevent people whose views are violently opposed to those of Better Wetherby coming to my house and smashing the car up.

“This is a massive planning application which is going to have a major effect on Wetherby, amongst other things.”

Residents are required to give their contact details in consultations in order to ensure all responses submitted are genuine.

Roger Owen's letter was redacted, but his personal details were still accessibleRoger Owen’s letter was redacted, but his personal details were still accessible.

However, the council has a duty to protect their personal details and not to publish them.

The council blamed a “processing error” for the situation, which meant although black marks were placed over personal details on PDFs submitted by respondents, people viewing them could still copy the text underneath and paste it, completely visible, into another document.

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Arnold Warneken, a Green Party councillor representing Ouseburn on North Yorkshire County Council, said those who had taken the time to provide their views to the consultation had been badly let down.

He said:

“This type of breach clearly puts people who live in the same communities off from making comments on matters that are very emotive and confrontational. My concern is that people will have pulled back from submitting comments.

“Like everything in this process, it is either being rushed or they haven’t got enough people to do it properly.”

A council spokesperson said a small volume of respondents had been incorrectly redacted due to “a processing error”.

He added:

“Where this happened, the contact details were not visible unless the consultation response was copied and pasted into a document.

“As soon as we were made aware of this, we took appropriate action and removed the information pending an investigation and resolution.

“We have also written to the residents involved, apologising for this error.”

Mr Owen said he was writing urgently to the council’s chief executive, Wallace Sampson, for an explanation of how the breach could have happened and whether any other documents were affected.

If he did not receive a satisfactory response, he said, he would take the issue further.

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