London, July 19 : Several secret files of the British Defence Ministry stored in portable computer drives have reportedly gone missing. This is not the first time when such files have been reported missing.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question, the UK Ministry of Defence said that so far this year as many as 22 portable memory sticks containing classified information had been either stolen or lost.
According to the reply, 131 of the devices have been taken or misplaced from the Defence Ministry since 2004, and over the past four years more than 700 MoD laptops have gone missing or been stolen.
The disclosure sparked claims that the Government has not learned from previous Whitehall information-handling blunders, reported The Telegraph.
Earlier this year, an independent review of the MoD's information security systems had warned that a "Facebook generation" of young officials had not learned the disciplines of the Cold War and were often careless with sensitive data.
In its answer, the MoD said that 131 of the department's portable USB memory sticks had been taken or misplaced since 2004 and 26 of the small storage devices have been lost this year. Three of those held information classified as "secret", while another 19 carried "restricted" data, added the paper.
The MoD also said that between 2004 and 2007, a total of 658 laptops were stolen, and another 89 were lost. Only 32 have been recovered.
Many IT security professionals advise that their use is carefully controlled in sensitive sites, because they can easily be used either to steal copies of files. As a precautionary measure, intelligence agencies including MI5 screen visitors to their buildings for USB sticks and tightly limit their use by staff.
The MoD figures were obtained by.
Sarah Teather, a Lib Dem MP, who obtained the figures through her parliamentary question, said: "It seems that this Government simply cannot be trusted with keeping sensitive information safe. It is frightening to think that secret MoD information can be lost or stolen."
Liam Fox, the Tory shadow defence secretary: "This is yet another example of the Government's inability to protect confidential information. To treat national security in such a cavalier fashion is unforgivable."