Data Loss- The Devil is in the Details

Thanks to the digging of Conservative MP Grant Shapps, we can all rest assured that the government is completely failing to improve its ability to safeguard our personal information.  It has been reported that over the past year, a total of 53 laptop computers as well as disk drives, memory sticks, projectors, digital cameras, office supplies and even a candlestick holder have been lost by various government departments.  This impressive display of incompetence is unfortunately nothing new and, after claims a year ago that such losses would not continue, completely unacceptable.

The problems here are many.  Not only is the personal information of thousands of UK citizens and tax payers unprotected and unaccounted for, but the amount of money represented by the loss of both the personal data, i.e. it’s street value in the form of identity theft and disclosure of benefits and financial information, and the monetary value of the items themselves is limitless.  There is simply no acceptable excuse for the government to be able to compromise peoples’ personal details and throw thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money down the drain.  It is irresponsible.  It is wrong.

And the responses to these leaks have been ineffectual.  Some of these debacles were downplayed to say that the amount of information or hardware misplaced was less than previously stated.  For example, Jack Straw claimed that the initial numbers of prison officers whose details had been compromised in the loss of a disk drive was initially over-stated.  So it wasn’t as bad as we thought despite hundreds of people’s personal information being lost?  Regardless of how serious the situation is, they are still placing countless people at risk for identity theft and putting private information on display to whomever comes across an abandoned laptop in a coffee shop.  The Government need to take all breaches of data security very seriously and bring the current run of breaches to an end.

Similar breaches in security elsewhere would warrant a much swifter and stronger response. Such response would more than likely include an expulsion of those responsible for the losses and stripping them of their access to further sensitive material.  For example, in 2000, the United States Ambassador to Israel was relieved of his security clearance while under investigation for “sloppy handling of information.”  People need to be held responsible for their actions.  With the recent data losses in mind, government should scrap plans such as ID cards allowing them increased access to our personal details.  If they are unable to handle their current responsibilities, why give them more?    Furthermore, if a government can be so careless with such secure information, imagine how careless they may be with your money...

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