Can the government be trusted with your personal data?

June 25, 2008

darling1.jpg“Woefully inadequate”, “a muddle-through ethos”, “a lack of awareness” – just some of the phrases used in scathing reports to describe data protection practices at the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The inquiries followed Britain’s biggest data loss scandal, when two discs containing child benefit records, including names, addresses and bank details, of some 25 million people, went missing after being put in the post by a junior employee.

The reports concluded that it wasn’t individuals who were to blame – some 30 were officials played some role in events leading to the loss of the discs – but institutional and systematic failures at Britain’s tax authority.

But the HMRC is not alone in such security breaches. A separate report into a stolen laptop containing the details of 600,000 potential recruits revealed similar failings at the Ministry of Defence. In all, four MoD computers had been stolen since 2004 and the report said the MoD was probably in breach of several principles set out in the Data Protection Act.

It concluded that a “serious security event of this nature was inevitable”. It added: “Generally, there is little awareness of the current, real, threat to information, and hence to the Department’s ability to deliver and support operational capability. Consequently, there can be little assurance that information is being effectively protected.”

The reports come days after a computer containing restricted information was stolen from the office of cabinet minister Hazel Blears and the government admitted that senior intelligence official had left a folder with top secret documents on a commuter train.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have seized on the revelations as evidence of incompetence that showed the government could not be trusted with the public’s personal data. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said there had been 12 “major” security breaches since the HMRC scandal.

“With a record like that, how on earth can they even consider proceeding with plans for a compulsory ID card for every citizen of the country,” Osborne told parliament.

Chancellor Alistair Darling and other ministers insist that lessons had been learned. But two further reports on data security for the Cabinet Office said the government had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment where masses of electronic data had to be stored and shared, and more still needed to be done.

“Looking forward, the challenges in this area are going to get harder rather than easier,” one said.

The government say better use of information means better services. But critics say
security breaches are not a price worth paying.

In light of the recent scandals, do you trust the government with your personal details?

5 comments

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Writing, genuinely, as an EX Labour supporter, I think the word incompetent is woefully inadequate in this regard.This stunning litany of gaping security errors were not only reckless, feckless and ludicrously outlandish, but clearly showed a government incapable of instituting adequate security checks and balances.That they were so extravagantly flippant with our private data and national security intelligence, even after consecutive breaches, possibly shows an abject contempt, or at the very least, a level of ineptitude that beggars belief.If the government is, for example, overseeing a bankrupt security system, then how on earth do they expect our allies to entrust us with their own sensitive and highly confidential security intelligence?The sharing of sensitive information between allies is and has always been an essential and fundamental part of our relationships with our friendly nations – like the USA – who rely on us to keep the information they share safe.Therefore this issue has serious implications of trust.Leaving laptops and papers on trains is just one pathetic and gaping security hole we all got to know about.Maybe next time someone will walk down the high street with sandwich boards highlighting more terrorist intelligence?We all need to know that the government is up-to-the-job when it comes to sensitive data.At present I and several hundred rafts of others feel the government are conveying an ethos of crass stupidity and base ineptitude.On behalf of the country, I would like to appeal to this government to get it’s act together NOW – and not after the horse has bolted its box!It cannot be rocket science to institute immediate and effective controls that at the very least, forbids any sensitive data from being taken out of any ‘secure’ environment?Mr Brown, the clock is ticking very loudly now, and we are waiting for real government competence, not the next instalment of another Fred Carno extravaganza.The pie is in your face Mr Brown, so do not deny it – now wipe it off and cut the jokes!Our sense of humour is diminished.

Posted by The Truth Is... | Report as abusive

Of course not, see the evidence.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

NuLab is incompetent that is true, however, it’s appears that the upper echelons of the Civil Service are equally without wisdom and expertise. I would rather go to jail than sign up for their National Database.

Posted by Roger | Report as abusive

once again blame the government? why not blame the faceless overpaid civil servants who will be in their jobs no matter what colour party is in downing street!

Posted by r.down | Report as abusive

R.Down, above, you fail to acknowledge there was a ‘series’ of serious breaches, where it was proven the government had done nothing to stop them.A mechanic cannmot blame his oily rag for his incompetence?You bet!

Posted by The Truth Is... | Report as abusive