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Why can't civil servants keep a grip on their BlackBerrys?

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Butter-fingered civil servants are continuing to hurl away their personal tech devices, figures released to the House of Commons yesterday show, with BlackBerrys particularly prone to going walkies.

Labour's Gareth Thomas MP asked tabled questions to a number of ministers about whether their departments had "lost any (a) computers, (b) mobile telephones, (c) BlackBerrys and (d) other IT equipment since May 2010".

The Department for Energy and Climate Change managed to mislay eight computers in that period, including laptops, as well as three mobile phones and 11 BlackBerrys.

But Climate Change Minister Gregory Barker reassured Thomas: "All computers and BlackBerrys lost were encrypted to protect government information." No word though on how secure the trio of missing mobes were.

But the Climate Department's trashing of its tech resources paled into insignificance next to that of the Justice Department .

Department of Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly reported the "lost or theft of" 127 computers or hard drives, no less than 71 BlackBerrys and "293 other items of IT equipment between 1 May 2010 and 30 September 2011".

The toll could be even higher, as Djanogly added: "Information on the number of (b) mobile telephones lost is not held centrally, and can be obtained only at disproportionate cost." Presumably because they'd have to hunt down the tea leaf who'd swiped the server with the data.

But Djanogly reassured Thomas: "All Ministry of Justice laptops and BlackBerrys are encrypted and protected with a complex password; and all BlackBerrys that are registered as lost or stolen are blocked remotely, making it impossible for them to be used." No further details on the security status of the other kit swiped then.

He added that, "The Ministry also implements security incident management procedures to ensure that the impacts of incidents are risk-managed and investigations are undertaken to seek, where possible, to retrieve lost/stolen assets.

"The Ministry adopts government security policy framework requirements to protect its assets securely."

Perhaps they could all learn a thing from the frugal occupants of the Northern Ireland office, where Minister Hugo Swire assured Thomas yesterday, "The Northern Ireland Office has not lost any computers, mobile telephones, BlackBerrys or other IT equipment since May 2010."

In July, the Scottish Office said it had lost just one item, worth £125, in the previous 12 months, while the Welsh Office also lost "nil" in the 12 months to July.

Which proves something about devolution, though we hesitate to guess what. ®

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