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Tax man praised for owning up to lost laptop

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HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has become the latest organisation to apologise to clients as the result of a lost laptop.

A machine containing personal data was stolen from the car of an HMRC staff member last month, the UK tax department confirmed on Monday. The tax worker had been using the laptop for a routine audit of tax information from several investment firms.

The laptop held data on around 400 customers with high value individual savings accounts (ISAs) at five firms, the BBC reports.

HMRC said data on the laptop was protected by "complex password and top level encryption". The circumstances surrounding the theft are the topic of an internal investigation which may result in disciplinary action against the staff member involved.

HMRC said it alone was responsible for the laptop's loss. No third party contractor was involved, as has been the case with other lost laptop ID theft flaps.

Security experts said HMRC's voluntary disclosure illustrated changing attitudes and sensitivites about data loss reporting.

Jamie Cowper, director of European marketing at PGP Corporation, said: "With top level encryption making it virtually impossible to access the data held on the stolen laptop, HMRC had no real obligation or reason to report the breach. As such, this voluntary disclosure shows a refreshing level of ethical responsibility and commitment to its customers."

A printout of personal details and financial information of some people was also taken during the same theft, which happened on the night of 20/21 September. These people have been contacted by HMRC.

A woman, who passport details and address appeared on the print-out, is concerned she may now be exposed to identity theft. She remains highly critical of HMRC.

"This is highly sensitive material and shows a total disregard by HMRC for the nature of the information with which they are entrusted by client customers," she said. ®

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