Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Goodnight Darling?

The news that the personal data of more than 25 million people has been lost is a blunder of such monumental proportions that it really does beggar belief.

According to the reports, the discs involved were sent just through an ordinary internal mail service, using a courier. This seems an almost unbelievably cavalier way to treat such sensitive date.

The first serious issue it raises is just how secure our personal data would be under the Labour government's proposed national ID database, which lies behind their appalling ID cards scheme. Why the hell should we trust the state to keep data about every aspect of our lives secure, if they can't do it for those claiming child benefit? Given that the ID database is going to be even more massive than the child benefit one, it seems very unlikely that the government is going to be able to keep everything on it completely secure. No system is perfect, and even if the national ID database were 99% secure (a very dubious assumption), that's still a helluva lot of personal data leaking from the system. This farce gives another reason why the Labour ID cards scheme must be ditched as soon as possible and resisted if it continues to proceed.

But on the child benefit data itself, there are some very real concerns about the way the government, particularly Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, has dealt with this matter. Darling has already been dismally unimpressive in his handling of the Northern Rock fiasco and he needs to come up with some answers fast if he wishes to survive. If he can't, then it defnitiely will be Goodnight Darling.

For example, what was the reason for the data needing to be transferred? Has this sort of large-scale data transfer taken place before? What security arrangements, if any, were in place to protect this data? Why was the decision taken to transfer the data on computer discs using an internal mail service? Was this normal practice?

And the two most important that I want answers to are why the hell it took the Chancellor 10 whole days to condescend to let us know that this data had gone missing and what compensation arrangements are going to be put in place for those millions of people who may now need to shift bank accounts and maybe get new National Insurance numbers?

Am I angry about this? You bet. And I'm not even one of the ones who is personally affected by this.

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