Darling admits Revenue loss of 25 million personal records
Lost: Two discs, 25 million accounts
UK Identity Crisis Alistair Darling told the House of Commons this afternoon that a police investigation has been launched into how Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has lost child benefit records relating to 25 million people.
Records for 25 million people, relating to child benefit payments for 7.25 million families, were sent using the HMRC's own postal system, called grid, but never arrived.
The Chancellor, flanked by PM Gordon Brown, told the House that the National Audit Office requested information which was first sent to them in March, in breach of HMRC procedures, and then returned to HMRC.
In October the NAO made another request and the entire database was put onto two password-protected discs which were sent by grid post.
Those discs did not arrive and cannot be found. A further copy of the information was sent again, this time by registered post.
Darling was first told November 10 and called for an immediate search. On Monday, November 12, he was told HMRC believed it would find the data but on Wednesday Darling called the police in to investigate. Police are continuing to search NAO and HMRC offices.
Darling said in light of the most recent failures, along with previous losses of a laptop and 15,000 records, he was asking Kieron Poynter of PWC to investigate HMRC procedures. An interim report is expected next month and the full report next spring.
Banks have been informed and are monitoring relevant accounts as well as tracking back to transactions made after 18 October. Darling said police had found no evidence of the data being misused.
Vincent Cable, acting leader of the Lib Dems, asked why any information was being sent around via CD rather than electronically and if this was a result of HMRC's ancient IT system.
Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, said: “This is an extremely serious and disturbing security breach. This is not the first time that we have been made aware of breaches at the HM Revenue and Customs – we are already investigating two other breaches.
Any system was only as good as its weakest link, Thomas said: "The alarm bells must now ring in every organisation about the risks of not protecting people’s personal information properly.
"As I highlighted earlier this year, it is imperative that organisations earn public trust and confidence by addressing security and other data protection safeguards with the utmost vigour."
Thomas said the PWC report would be passed on to him, "and we will then decide what further action may be appropriate. Searching questions need to be answered about systems, procedures and human error inside both HMRC and NAO.”
Jamie Cowper, Director of European Marketing at PGP Corporation, said in a statement: "These discs should never have been transported in the first place - information of this type should only be transmitted using the strongest security protocols available such as encrypted batch transfer - but more to the point, these details should not have been stored in this medium.
Discs are easy to lose, but difficult to protect. This type of information should only be stored on formats where the data can be encrypted transparently, so that it remains protected wherever it resides, and whether at rest or in motion."®
@RE: Actually, never mind the HMRC - What about the NAO??
> saying the information would not be "desensitised" because "it would require an extra payment to the data services provider EDS".
It's true - on PMQs someone stood up and asked a question on why HMRC should have refused to provide the desensitised information on the basis that doing so would have been "too onerous". The NAO seem to be in the right area by specifically asking for desensitised data, and of course heads should roll at HMRC (but won't) for just chucking the lot at them.
"Mmm - notice he didn't publish his own NI Number, DoB and Bank Account number to show how secure it is to leave these lying around"
He doesn't need to, since he has two children himself and therefore is probably on the disks
RE: RE: Actually, never mind the HMRC - What about the NAO??
>> I'm sure there are lots of readers of this site with experience of handling very
>> large datasets who could put together the SQL query to extract only the data
>> the NAO wanted (according to the BBC last night just the childrens names and
>> the relevent NI numbers of the claimants) in just a few minutes. The data extract
>> job itself might take a bit longer, but overall this is a job that should only take a
>> few hours, not days or weeks. After all the Child Benefit database cannot be
>> much more complicated than your average HR db used as training examples in
>> all my old oracle books.
On a regular PC the select might take a few hours, on the sort of hardware HMRC should be using for their database servers it oughtn't take more than a few minutes. I'm am somewhat surprised the bank details are even in the same table.
I agree, it is shocking that HMRC told the NAO that they would desensitize the data because of the cost of a contractor to do the job. I don't know that it is more shocking than the fact that a junior member of staff has full access to the database. Certainly a close call.
BTW to all those commenting about ID cards - whilst clearly worrying, I'm more worried about upcoming NHS database.