25 million in UK at risk after data loss, government apologises

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London, Nov 21 (UNI) The UK government has disclosed that personal records of 25 million people had been lost in the post, which was being termed as the ''most fundamental breach of faith between the state and citizen''.

British Finance Minister Alistair Darling today apologised ''unreservedly'' after admitting that the government had lost the personal details, including dates of birth, addresses, bank accounts and national insurance numbers, of half of the population.

This is potentially the largest data security lapse in Britain history which lays open the threat of mass identity fraud and theft from personal bank accounts.

The Finance Minister apologised to the nation, but refused to resign, saying there had been no policy failure.

He admitted it was possible the government or some other agency might be liable for any losses that occur, but stressed there was no evidence the discs had fallen into criminal hands.

He said he was informed about the lapse on November 10, and told Prime Minister Gordon Brown within 30 minutes.

The delay in telling parliament was partly due to banks requesting time to monitor potentially suspicious activity, The Guardian quoted him as saying.

The discs containing personal details from 7.25 million families claiming child benefit had been lost. They went missing in the internal post after a junior official at HM Revenue&Customs in Washington, Tyne and Wear, breached all government security rules by sending them by courier to the National Audit Office in London.

A frantic, secret police-led search over the past week has been unable to locate the discs. All banks and building societies have been alerted and the public has been told to be vigilant of raids on their bank accounts.

Treasury ministers were hoping to stave off bank panic, fearing that account holders would rush to change their accounts either in person or on the internet.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas conducting a broad inquiry on government data privacy said he was demanding more powers to enter government offices without warning for spot-checks.

''The frightening aspect of this episode is that it just does not matter what laws, rules, procedures and regulations are in place, if there is no proper enforcement of those rules. That is why we must have the power to mount spot checks, so managers of data know the consequences if they do not follow the rules,'' he said.


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