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Barristers and solicitors need to make sure they keep personal information secure, especially information on paper files, says a statement from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This warning follows a number of data breaches reported to the ICO over the last few months involving the legal profession.
What threat do data breaches pose to the legal profession?
Solicitors in England and Wales are required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in them and in the provision of legal services. Any failures in their ability to keep personal information secure and confidential will ultimately undermine the trust and confidence the public places in the legal profession.
Whether a breach is the result of the failure to act diligently and manage the risks associated with storing personal information (either at an individual or firm level) or is the result of cybercrime, it still amounts to a breach of that trust ultimately affecting the clients a firm can attract and retain.
Have you noticed an increase in the number of data breaches involving the legal profession?
Although the ICO has specifically targeted the legal profession, there has been an increase in data breaches across all sectors. This is not only because there has been an increase in the number of breaches. It is also due to the heightened awareness of, and interest in:
• data breaches among the public and the media;
• greater efforts and resources being placed by the legal profession in detecting breaches generally;
• greater efforts on the part of the ICO in relation to the monitoring and enforcement of breaches.
How difficult is it for those in the legal profession to keep documents secure? Are barristers and solicitors under increasing pressure to achieve this?
Pressure in the legal profession to keep data secure and confidential is not new. However, the electronic storage of data (in addition to and/or as a substitution for paper storage) over the last decade has obviously introduced a totally new and ever-challenging dimension to data security.
The legal profession is no different to any other sector in that they can no longer rely on physical security and separation of information and will find it increasingly difficult to keep electronic documents secure as cyber risk becomes more and more sophisticated.
In 2013 the SRA found that law firms were not undertaking a sufficient level of due diligence when outsourcing data processing and storage to an external provider. The increasing popularity of cloud computing combined with the heightened requirements of client confidentiality faced by solicitors and barristers
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