Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/10/isa_panorama/
ISA chairman assures nation: Your data is safe
Hasn't got any data, so hasn't lost any data
Comment Fears were growing this week over the safety of ultra-sensitive personal data, as the BBC - in the shape of Jeremy Vine - finally caught up with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority, and quizzed its chairman over their security procedures.
On Monday night, Panorama took a close look at the new scheme that went live last October, to create a vetting database that will determine whether adults are allowed to work with children and vulnerable adults. This scheme will, on the government’s own figures, cost the taxpayer an additional £277 million over the next three years.
Interviewed by Jeremy Vine, former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas was cautious. He said: "With any large governmental collection of personal information, there are clear and substantial risks that the information may be inaccurate.
"There are risks the information data may be out of date. There are risks the information may be irrelevant. There are risks that it may be compromised or get into the wrong hands, and the larger the database the larger the risk."
With respect to the "soft intelligence" – essentially, hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations, he added: "We have to look at what the detriment might be if things go wrong. This can be very damaging to peoples’ careers. They might lose a job or all types of work for a very long time. It can be damaging in financial terms. This also can be very damaging in personal, social and family terms."
Roger Singleton, Chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) reassured viewers by confirming that there is a very high level of security within the government’s secure information system in terms of physical safeguards.
He pointed out that the ISA has never lost any personal data, although as Jeremy Vine observed, the ISA has not yet had any data to lose.
However, the fundamental issue remains that in general, the government’s record when it comes to protecting personal data is "terrible". The data that will be held on the vetting database is also likely to be far more sensitive and far more directly damaging should it get out into the world than most other data.
Mr Singleton responded: "It's not down to me to defend the government.
"What in fact you will see is that individuals and people are careless with information and that’s how it gets lost, and so... our staff have been really very thoroughly trained on the importance of information.
"Information doesn’t leave the building either electronically or in paper form."
In other words: the main cause of data loss is carelessness. However, we should be reassured as the ISA, uniquely amongst government departments, will train its staff not to be careless.
A spokesman for the ISA later confirmed this stance, telling El Reg: "The ISA sees the security of its information as a chief priority. We have put in place robust processes to ensure the highest safety and security of our information. All staff are trained in information security and data protection. We have also created a stringent risk management process to support our safeguarding responsibilities." ®
As one interviewee confirmed, the Child Support Agency, a department entrusted with equally sensitive data, managed to get details wrong in approximately 2,500 cases last year.