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The Conservatives have repeated their call for those involved in data losses to face criminal charges, following the Home Office's loss of data on all prisoners.

The party said the government should make it a criminal offence for someone to "knowingly or recklessly" cause the loss of data, reports the Observer.

The opposition had attempted to add the offence to the criminal justice and immigration bill earlier in the year, but the move was blocked by the government.

"Every time the government has lost data, ministers have promised a crackdown, but nothing has happened and a culture of complacency remains," said shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert.

"It is time to send a clear and unambiguous signal to officials and agents who are entrusted with private data that it is no longer acceptable to take risks over how it is handled. Civil penalties will not do. The regrettable conclusion is that only the threat of a criminal sanction will change mindsets and jolt this government to ensure proper precautions in future."

The loss of the memory stick containing data on all prisoners, as well as thousands of prolific offenders and those involved in drug programmes, is an embarrassment both for the government and PA Consulting, the firm which lost the device. In the past year the government has been rocked by a series of scandals involving lost data.

PA Consulting is one of the main companies involved in setting up the identity cards scheme. Its failure to protect sensitive data has raised fresh concerns about the safety of the national identity database and placed a question mark over its chances of winning future work from the government.

Between 2004-07, the Home Office paid the consultancy almost £100m, a large proportion of which was for work on the identity cards scheme. The consultancy has pledged to work with the Home Office to resolve any security problems.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith has denied that the loss of the data was due to failures by her department. "This was data being held in a secure form, but was downloaded on to a memory stick by an external contractor," she said. "It runs against the rules set down in the contract that we had with the external contractor."

The Home Office said no more information was being passed to the firm while the investigation continued and the government was "reviewing the terms of that contract and other contracts with PA Consulting".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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