UK Government Loses Prisoners' Data

British Government confirms yet another missing media fiasco

August 23, 2008

2 Min Read
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The U.K. Government has been rocked by yet another data breach, the latest in a recent surge of embarrassing storage snafus.

Government ministers today blamed a private contractor for losing an unencrypted USB stick containing details on tens of thousands of criminals.

I am extremely concerned and disappointed,” said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who is responsible for the country’s prisons. “That data was held in a secure site by an external contractor, was downloaded at that external contractor’s onto a memory stick, and that memory stick has been mislaid.”

The USB contained details on 10,000 serious offenders, as well as details of all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales, and it includes 33,000 records from the U.K.’s Police National Computer.

Media reports named PA Consulting as the contractor involved in the missing media fiasco, although the London-based firm has not yet divulged any details of how the USB was lost.“We are collaborating closely with the Home Office on this matter -- we have no further comment to make at this time,” the firm said, in an email to Byte and Switch earlier today.

The data had apparently been unencrypted prior to being downloaded onto the USB, breaking the Government’s rules for handling sensitive information.

“It’s completely unsatisfactory,” she said. “It runs against the rules set down for both holding Government data, and set down by the external contractor.”

The missing USB stick is just the latest in a litany of storage gaffes by the British Government. Last month, for example, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) admitted that 121 USB sticks, including five containing secret information, have been lost or stolen since 2004.

Both the MOD and the Home Office’s data breaches fade into insignificance, however, compared to the snafu last year when Her Majesty Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was at the center of the country’s largest ever data loss.With Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushing on with a controversial plan to implement national identity cards, critics were given another opportunity to attack the Labour Government today.

“This is part of a systemic failure by the Government to keep data safe,” said Nick Clegg, the leader of the U.K.’s Liberal Democrat party.

The Conservative party, which is the country’s main opposition party, also chimed in, demanding that Jacqui Smith explain what the loss of thousands of criminals' details means for the ID card scheme.

"This will destroy any grain of confidence the public still have in this white elephant and reinforce why it could endanger, rather than strengthen, our security," said Conservative Member of Parliament Dominic Grieve.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

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