UK Government in Uproar Following Data Loss

Misplaced disks contained personal information on 25 million taxpayers

Legislators in the United Kingdom are calling for heads to roll following a series of errors that may have exposed 25 million Britons' personal information.

The entire database of child benefit recipients maintained by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department has gone missing after being posted to the National Audit Office by a junior official, according to reports.

The junior official's action was contrary to regulations that govern the handling of data within HMRC, the reports say. The official then compounded the mistake by re-sending the disks when they did not arrive on the first try.

The lost data was password protected, but not encrypted, according to another report. "A criminal could break into these files in a matter of minutes," said Simon Davies, a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics who specializes in data security.

There have been at least three major leaks involving HMRC in the past three months, according to British press. In October, a laptop containing data on up to 2,000 investors was stolen. In Parliamentary answers, officials revealed that 41 laptops have been stolen from HMRC in the past 12 months.

A CD carrying details of 15,000 Standard Life customers was also lost by the agency.

Aside from expressing their outrage, British legislators are using the breach as a springboard to renew discussions over the U.K. Data Protection Act, which currently does not require companies to notify either the authorities or those affected by the loss of data when they suspect a data breach.

The U.K. is "the bad boy in the western world when it comes to data protection," said Gus Hosein of Privacy International, a non-government body that advocates data protection laws. "It is the furthest behind."

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