More Lost UK Citizen Info: This Time in the US

The London Times reports that Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, told MPs today that the personal details of three million UK learner drivers have been lost this past May. The data, which contained contained the name of the test applicant, their mail address and telephone number but no details of any individualâ''s bank account or credit card, was housed on a hard drive in the Iowa City offices of Pearson Driving Assessments Ltd, a company employed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

This unexpected disclosure came as Ms. Kelly was being asked to talk about the recent loss of two unencrypted computer discs containing the names and addresses of over 6,000 motorists in Northern Ireland.

In other news, the interim report of the "Poynter Review" investigating the loss of CDs containing the personal details of 25 million UK citizens that was expected last Friday appears not to be forthcoming after all. Now it looks like everyone is going to have to wait until the full report is finished, supposedly by June of next year, pending, of course, the amount of embarrassing information it contains.

Though no reasons was given, I suspect part of it was this little exchange during Parliamentary questioning of Mr. David Hartnett, acting Director of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

"Q356 Mr Todd: I suppose one of the puzzles to anyone who knows anything about the systems is that it was actually technically possible to do this. Not that some senior manager did not know about it; it should not have been possible for one individual member of staff to produce a file of this kind and despatch it; there should have been a built in bar in your system which required some sort of intervention to achieve that outcome. That has been a puzzle to me from the start. Can you throw any light on that?

Mr Hartnett: Mr Todd, it is a puzzle to me as well, I have to say, but let me explain what was going on here because I think it may help. I think Kieran Poynter's work really has got to help us with this. The data that was in Waterview Park in the North East was drawn off from the child benefit computer system. That is in a different building and it was needed for what we call claimant compliance, to check that we were paying child benefit in circumstances where it was due. It was brought to Waterview Park and loaded up on to a secure, stand-alone desk-top computer in a secure environment, and from that the people with access to it draw off samples for our claimant compliance people with our people saying, "This is the sort of sample I need." The emails are interesting in this context, because they show no expectation at all that the data would ever have left our offices, but I think you are onto a crucial question, and that is how on earth was it possible ever to draw down a full copy? At the moment I know it clearly was possible, but---

Q357 Mr Todd: That is an issue of system design.

Mr Hartnett: Exactly; absolutely."

So, from this and other bits of Harnett's testimony, it is clear that there is a systemic security problem at HM Revenue and Customs, even as Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists there isn't.

Expect Mr. Hartnett to be shown the door early next year - I bet he'll be "wanting to spend more time with his family."


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City