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Civil servants still sticking unencrypted data in the post

Court case CDs go missing

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Groundhog Data Today's story of a cretinous government data giveaway is brought to you by... the Ministry of Justice.

On the scale of government ineptitude this hardly ranks alongside the loss of 25 million child benefit details last year, nor the loss of a laptop containing unencrypted details of members of the armed forces - but it is still serious.

A story in this morning's Daily Mail revealed that four CDs were sent in the post and included details on 55 defendants and other restricted information, "potentially including" highly sensitive details of alleged victims of and witnesses to crimes.

The CDs were sent recorded delivery on 15 December but never arrived. The discs related to people in the Manchester area, and were part of an investigation into claims that magistrates are dropping cases where the defendants do not turn up to court dates.

The paper believes one of the four discs was either password-protected or encrypted.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed the screw-up and said it was investigating. It sent us the following statement:

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA) confirms that 4 CDROMs are missing. They were sent recorded delivery. Ministers and the Information Commissioner were notified immediately it was recognised that personal data had been lost. An investigation is underway so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

This looks horribly similar to the HMRC debacle which emerged back in November. At the time, the government kicked off a series of investigations and reviews into data protection. It also pledged to tighten up on procedures, give the Information Commissioner the right to make spot checks on government departments, and to introduce tougher penalties for data breaches.

The head of HMRC, in a letter to people affected by the HMRC data breach, said, "And I can assure you that all efforts are being made to ensure that such a loss can never happen again." Clearly the letter never reached the court service.

Simon Davies of Privacy International said it was unbelievable that there was not a total ban on any government agency sending unprotected discs through the post, and that the government was treating our data with contempt.

The Mail story is here. ®

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