Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—you know, those nice people who collect taxes and disburse stipends—have managed to ‘lose’ CDs containing the personal details of every family in the country with children under sixteen. That’s twenty-five million people in total. According to Chancellor Alistair Darling:
‘The missing information contains details of all Child Benefit recipients: records for 25 million individuals and 7.25 million families. These records include the recipient and their children’s names, addresses and dates of birth. It includes Child Benefit numbers, National Insurance numbers and, where relevant, bank or building society account details.’
The information was recorded onto a couple of discs, which went
missing in the post.
If you’ve read my previous comments about
Royal Mail, you’ll not be surprised to know that I hardly consider
this astonishing. I’m being unfair to Royal Mail: it was
TNT that handled it. The Chancellor has tried to reassure
people affected by saying that there’s no evidence that the discs
have fallen into the wrong hands; meanwhile, the police are
attempting to recover the CDs.
Because it involves a slightly technical topic, it’s hard to find out what really happened. BBC Radio reported that the discs were ‘password protected’, but ‘not encrypted’. So that would be not protected at all, then.
But there’s a real WTF here, though, and no one seems to have mentioned it yet. It doesn’t matter if the discs are recovered, because it’s apparently possible for a ‘junior official’ at HMRC to dump personal and financial data belonging to 25 million people onto a couple of CDs and drop them in the post.
Do you still trust the government and its associated bodies with your personal data? I don’t. You don’t have to have something to hide to have something to fear from institutional incompetence.