Hundreds of boxes of sensitive, personal data have been found abandoned by squatters in a disused college in Maida Vale, London, in what has been described by privacy campaigners as an “identity-thieves’ treasure trove.”
The squatters had become self-appointed ‘caretakers’ of the building containing hundreds of boxes of personal data as well as over a hundred computers, at least three flat-screen televisions and interactive white-boards, and science equipment that have been left in the disused building for 18 months.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch said: “For the council to abandon vast quantities of sensitive information and to make absolutely no arrangements for the data to be moved to a secure location in more than 18 months is simply reckless. It is only through luck that the privacy of hundreds of people has not been compromised and this identity-thieves’ treasure-trove discovered. It should be moved immediately and we will be contacting the Information Commissioner’s Office to complain about this haphazard approach to prospecting personal information.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is an independent authority set up to promote openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. On the ICO’s website, organisations are advised they have an obligation to check the physical security of their premises in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
The group of activists and students claim to have climbed in through an open window in the property two weeks ago.
The Maida Vale college was formerly a campus of the City of Westminster College. They were contacted last Friday and released the following statement: “At the time it was occupied, Maida Vale Centre contained some records of past students. These had been secured under lock and key awaiting archival elsewhere. The College would be very concerned if any records were tampered with or made public and it trusts that the current inhabitants of the building and their guests will respect all property stored in Maida Vale Centre prior to the building’s refurbishment.”
The college have since applied for a possession order which will see the property once again unoccupied on Monday. They have announced no plans to move the data to a secure location. The City of Westminster college has confirmed plans for a £10 million refurbishment with the projected date for reopening set at 2013.
An abandoned library brimming with thousands of books; science equipment in a dilapidated laboratory and art materials were among the other items left in the deserted classrooms.
The college spokesperson: “The College has robust policies and uses specialist companies to ensure safe and legal removal of all potentially harmful equipment, with recycling of parts wherever possible.”
The five-storey building, just five minutes’ walk from the famous Abbey Road, was closed in December 2010. Posters advertising an organised walk-out just before the closure implied government cuts were to blame.
Yesterday they were due to be evicted after receiving a possession order that will see the building empty once more.
Squatter and activist Frank Freeman, 25, said: “There had been a break-in before where kids had come in and tried to get some of the technology. The college security actually came and thanked us for looking after the building.”