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Leaked email reveals civil service laptop rules

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The Register has received the email sent out to all staff at the Medical Research Council passing on instructions from the Cabinet Office that the ban on taking laptops out of the office could apply to mobile phones too.

The mail was sent to senior staff on Wednesday afternoon, but forwarded onto to everyone within the department this morning.

It warns staff that the first step is that no unencrypted laptops or drives containing personal data should be taken outside secured office premises. The mail said: "Clarification has been given that this applies to any mobile device with storage capacity, including mobile phones and PDA’s."

The email also provides a definition of what "personal data" actually is:

Any information that links one or more identifiable living person with private information about them” or “Any source of information about 1000 identifiable individuals or more, other than information sourced from the public domain.

The mail says senior staff are seeking clarification on what this will mean in practice, but meanwhile staff are told to "err on the side of caution... we should assume for the time being that emails and contacts stored in an email system count as personal data."

Here's the whole thing:

Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 3:56 PM

Subject: Personal Data Security and Restrictions on use of Laptops

Colleagues

Following the recent government-wide review of procedures for the storage and use of data, we received a letter this morning from Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary of the DIUS containing new Cabinet Office instructions and guidance on personal data.

There is a programme of actions that have to be undertaken, but the most immediate states that “From now on, no unencrypted laptops or drives containing personal data should be taken outside secured office premises.” Clarification has been given that this applies to any mobile device with storage capacity, including mobile phones and PDA’s.

Personal data is defined as “Any information that links one or more identifiable living person with private information about them” or “Any source of information about 1000 identifiable individuals or more, other than information sourced from the public domain”. Clarification is being sought urgently on the interpretation of these rules in practice but as we have been instructed to err on the side of caution, we should assume for the time being that emails and contacts stored in an email system count as personal data.

With immediate effect therefore, please ensure that your Establishment complies with the instruction not to allow unencrypted laptops or drives containing personal data, including emails, to be taken outside of secured office premises.

We will be disseminating information about the other measures as soon as we can. If you have any questions about this, please contact the MRC’s Information Security Officer xxxx.xxxx@xxxx.mrc.ac.uk and he will do his best to answer them for you.

Regards

Nigel

Nigel Watts

Finance Director

MRC

20 Park Crescent

London W1B 1AL

Staff have been told encryption software will be installed on their machines next week. ®

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