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The Identity and Passport Service has dismissed 14 people over the last three years, most for abusing access to the passport database.

Of 16 cases where data protection was breached, all but one involved members of staff who had legitimate access to the Passport Application Support System database, and who used this for unauthorised checks not related to their duties. The other case involved a contractor misusing data to which he had legitimate access.

In the two less serious cases that did not lead to dismissal, the IPS issued formal warnings.

The numbers, released by the Home Office in response to a parliamentary written question by shadow home affairs minister James Brokenshire on 28 October 2008, appear to be increasing. In 2007-08, IPS disciplined eight people, of whom seven were fired, for data protection breaches. In 2006-07 it disciplined six and fired five, while in 2005-06 it disciplined and fired two staff.

IPS, which is developing the National Identity Register, also said it had disciplined and dismissed fewer than five staff in 2007-08 for inappropriate use of personal or sensitive data. In 2006-07 it had no disciplinary cases or dismissals of this kind.

"It is disturbing that so many Home Office officials have been sacked or reprimanded for data protection breaches – this from the department that wants to store even more information on all of us," Brokenshire told GC News.

"These officials handle sensitive personal information on all of us and the Home Office needs to get its data security procedures in order. It also underlines why plans for a national ID register and a new super database of phone and email details is so fraught with risk and danger."

IPS said it employs more than 4,000 staff, and the majority need access to personal data to carry out their work. "The fact that the systems IPS has in place have identified just 16 instances of unauthorised access over the past three years, and these resulted in 14 dismissals, is testament to the way in which the agency protects its data and the seriousness with which it views breaches," said a spokesperson.

"A range of procedures are in place to prevent misuse or abuse of official systems, and to detect it where it does occur," the spokesperson added. "IPS investigates any unauthorised access to, misuse or abuse of the information entrusted to it.

"Staff are routinely reminded that unauthorised access to personal information will be treated as gross misconduct and can result in dismissal or even prosecution. System checks are regularly performed to identify any inappropriate access."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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