Council data breach sees phone numbers and email addresses of people who objected to Yorkshire housing development published

A local authority has apologised after failing in its duty of care to safeguard some residents and traders who responded to a consultation over controversial plans for a 4,000-home village between Harrogate and York.

Despite providing assurances on the Maltkiln development consultation that respondents’ personal details would not be published, a failure by Harrogate Council to properly redact the information has meant addresses, email addresses and phone numbers have been publicly available.

In such consultations it is compulsory for respondents to give their home or business address, name and contact phone numbers, to ensure consultations are fair and accurate.

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To protect respondents and ensure no one is deterred from commenting about controversial issues affecting communities councils then must redact those personal details are redacted under General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Wetherby is one of the settlements affected by the Maltkiln developmentWetherby is one of the settlements affected by the Maltkiln development
Wetherby is one of the settlements affected by the Maltkiln development

However, it emerged that on Harrogate council’s consultation anyone who copied and pasted information from it could see all the respondents’ personal details.

North Yorkshire County Ouseburn division councillor Arnold Warneken said those whose had taken the time to provide their views to the consultation relating to changes to Harrogate Borough’s Local Plan had been badly let down.

Coun Warneken 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.

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

Roger Owen, chairman of the Better Wetherby consortium of volunteers, said the group had been aghast to discover members’ personal details attached to the response it sent earlier this month had been published on the consultation website.

He said under GDPR regulations the council had a duty of care to ensure consultation respondents’ details did not get into the public domain.

Mr Owen said: “This is a very serious breach. GDPR 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.

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“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.”

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 uhnless the consultation response was copied and pasted into a document.

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“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.”