HMRC loses 25 million Child Benefit records

November 20, 2007

Two disks sent from the HMRC to the National Audit Office have gone missing. The disks are apparently password protected but contain the names, addresses and dates of birth of every child in the country as well as the bank account details and National Insurance numbers of ten million parents, guardians and carers.

Does anyone still have confidence in the Government’s ability to run a National ID card scheme?

Update: The BBC’s Today programme yesterday morning (MP3) received around ten e-mails claiming to be from current or former HMRC employees pointing out that there are ongoing problems at HMRC due to staff cutbacks following on from the merger between the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise, and also that the IT infrastructure is inadequate. Alistair Darling was then interviewed and commented “… there were procedures that don’t appear to have been followed … this sheer scale of information should never have left the building in which it was stored … new procedures have been put in place involving encryption … it is not the merger [or] the reductions in staff that led to procedures being breached”.

Now it seems that the National Audit Office requested that the data from HMRC should be desensitised, removing bank account and other personal information. However an e-mail from a senior business manager from HMRC stated the the data would not be desensitised (and the reason subsequently given for this decision is that it would involve an extra payment to EDS).

From my perspective, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling opted for blaming a junior IT official who wasn’t following proper procedures, a claim which has now been somewhat undermined. If the government really took our data security seriously they would have spent the money to undertake a proper risk assessment, and put systems in place to reduce the likelihood of unintentional or deliberate misuse to the appropriate level.