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A police force who published confidential information of the names and ethnicities of 850 victims of hate crime are being investigated by the Information Commissioner.

Cheshire Constabulary released the information as part of a Freedom of Information Act and it has since sat on their website, as part of their publication scheme for three years.

Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 members of the public are able to request data from public authorities as long as it is not subject to a list of exemptions.

By publishing the details of victims the Constabulary may have breached Data Protection laws that ensure personal information is not made available publicly  The Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), which is responsible for FOI and Data Protection, is able to fine bodies that break the law.

Included in the spreadsheet on their website were the names of 850 victims of religious or race motivated crimes as well as their ethnicities and the type of offence committed against them.

Charity Stop Hate UK criticised the breach of data and warned that hate crime can have a “devastating” impact on the victims.

A spokesperson for Hate UK said in many cases victims of racially motivated crimes fear reporting them to the police: “This can be for a number of reasons, such as previous bad experiences, fear of not being believed or being taken seriously or mistrust and lack of confidence in criminal justice processes. Often victims are worried about further victimisation as a result of reporting.

“For victims of hate crime to feel able to come forward and talk about what has happened to them, it is imperative that all agencies involved are able to give assurances to victims that their information will remain confidential, unless they give permission to share it.”

In recent cases the ICO has recently fined the Nursing and Midwifery Council £150,000 for breaching the Data Protection Act.

The council lost three DVDs related to a nurse’s misconduct hearing, which contained confidential personal information and evidence from two vulnerable children. An ICO investigation found the information was not encrypted.

Since the potential breach has been reported to the ICO the Constabulary have removed the request from their website along with their whole publication scheme containing other requests from information.

Cheshire Constabulary said an “administrative error” was to blame for the publication of the confidential information.

“The Constabulary takes all matters relating to the access and retrieval of personal and confidential data very seriously and any breaches of data confidentiality are investigated thoroughly,” a spokesperson for Cheshire Constabulary said.

“A full review is underway to ensure that same error has not taken place in any other force data.

“We greatly regret this error has occurred and we would like to reassure the public that the Constabulary take personal victim data very seriously. We are taking all appropriate steps to rectify this limited breach of data security.”

The ICO confirmed the incident involving Cheshire Constabulary had been referred to them to investigate.

A spokesperson for the ICO said: “We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach which may involve Cheshire Constabulary.

“We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.”

Hate UK encourage victims of hate crime to report all instances where it occurs, they also offer a helpline for those dealing with issues. You can find out about Stop Hate UK’s work and find out where the service operates here.

I am a journalist and author. I am a staff writer at the UK edition of WIRED magazine and in 2015 my book, Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. I created FOI Directory in 2012.