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Foreign Office reports five data losses to Info Commissioner

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has reported five significant data breaches to the Information Commissioner's Office in the last financial year, in total affecting less than 188 people.

The losses have been disclosed within the department's resource accounts (pdf) for the year ending 31 March 2008.

They show that in September 2007, it lost data on 70 people, including their names, addresses, dates of birth and family details, through the loss of a computer, "outside secured government premises". In December information on 36 people, extending to passport number, financial and employment details, was lost on paper, again outside government offices.

The only serious breach caused by unauthorised disclosure by a contractor, rather than by lost equipment or documents, was in May last year, which resulted in "less than 50 believed to be affected" and was reported publicly.

This appears to refer to vulnerabilities with the UK visa application website, run by contractor VFS in India, potentially making 50,000 people's data vulnerable. The ICO found that the FCO had breached the Data Protection Act as a result, and the department signed a formal undertaking to comply with the act in future. The FCO was not able to provide immediate further comment.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in its resource accounts (pdf), said it reported two incidents to the ICO during 2007-08. One, involving the loss of payslips in November, affected 14 people.

The department has since stopped printing full bank account details on its payslips, and says it will use Royal Mail special delivery for deliveries to the office where this incident occurred. The other, in January, concerned the unauthorised disclosure of one person's name, employment record and skills.

In a summary table of events not deemed serious enough to be reported to the ICO, Defra said that it had experienced 15 further incidents of lost data, either on paper or on "inadequately protected electronic equipment", five within secure government premises and 10 outside.

The FCO's equivalent table reported one loss of data within government premises, two outside, and one unauthorised disclosure.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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