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Home Office screws prison data bunglers

PA Consulting feels Jacqui's wrath

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The Home Office has today terminated a £1.5m contract with PA Consulting after it lost the personal details of the entire UK prison population.

In August the firm admitted to officials that it had downloaded the prisons database to an unencrypted memory stick, against the security terms of its contract to manage the JTrack prolific offender tracking system. The data included names, addresses and dates of birth, and was broken down by how frequently individuals had offended.

Following an inquiry into the gaffe, Jacqui Smith told the House of Commons today that PA Consulting's £8m of other Home Office contracts are now also under review. She said: "The Home Office have decided to terminate this contract. My officials are currently working with PA to take this work back in-house without affecting the operation of JTrack."

Data handling for JTrack has been taken on by the Home Office, and maintenance and training are due in-house by December.

The inquiry found the Home Office had transferred the data to PA Consulting securely, but that the firm then dumped it to unlabelled USB memory to transfer it between computers at its premises. The stick hasn't been found. Smith said: "This was a clear breach of the robust terms of the contract covering security and data handling."

A safety assessment carried out with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Ministry of Justice said the risk to the public and to the individuals whose data was lost was "low".

PA Consulting's other Home Office contracts include data work for the UK Border agency, Identity and Passport Service, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the Security Industry Authority and the National Police Improvement Agency. The expense of cancelling the JTrack contract will be borne by PA Consulting and not taxpayers, Smith pledged.

The details of the data loss will now be passed to the Cabinet Office, which is mounting a government-wide push to improve security amid a series of similar incidents involving both civil servants and contractors.

At the weekend it emerged that EDS had lost the personal details of 5,000 prison officers and support staff, so at least the lags and their jailers have something more in common. ®

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