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Govt Incompetence! 2007/11/24

Posted by Mummy Ruth in Baby, Musings, Whinge.
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[Picture of scanned letter from HMRC tax apologising for losing our personal details]

Aw man, can you believe this? What’s the world coming to? The national news media has been giving it to the government for losing two burned CDs containing unencrypted personal data for all seven and a half million families who get child benefit or family allowance. I scanned in the letter for public record.

It says:

“I am writing to make a personal apology. A copy of some HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) data about families, including yours, who have received Child Benefit has been lost. the copy of the data is likely to still be on Government property. The police ar enow conducting a search, and there is no evidence that it is in the possession of anyone else. This will not affect your Child Benefit payments.

This data includes your and your children’s names and dates of birth, your address, your National Insurance number and, where relevant, the details o fthe bank or building society account into which your Child Benefit was paid.

If you are paid through a bank of building society, they are aware of this matter. they are acting on this information, and assure us that they have appropriate safeguards in place to protect you.

As is usual in these circumstances, if you are the innocent victim of banking fraud you will not have to pay, but you may want to take some precautionary steps to protect yourself. If you receive bills, invoices or receipts or see entries in your statements for goods or services which you have not ordered you should contact your bank or building society immediately. In addition, do not give out personal or account details if anyone contacts you unexpectedly. Instead take a note of their name and number, and if you are at all suspicious contact your bank or building society. If your password sues any of your personal data, for example your child’s name or date of birth, you may also wish to sonsider changing any passwords you use.

The advice of banks is there is no need for customers to ask for a new account or to contact their bank or cuilding society. Your Child Benefit payments will continue to be paid as before and you do not need to contact HMRC. However if you experience any problems, in receipt of Child Benefit payments, please contact HMRC on 0845 302 1444 between 8am and 8pm on any day of the week (closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

I would like to offer my personal apologies for any worry or concern this data loss may cause you. And I can assure you that all efforts are being made to ensure that such a loss can never happen again.

Dave Hartnett
Acting Chairman “

It beggars belief, doesn’t it. The HMRC (the UK government, basically) has lost our personal and banking details and they do not know where they are. This affects 25 million people and definitely includes us.

They have poor safeguards. They state that the banks have safeguards — but, bearing in mind that their own safeguards failed — they ask us to check our accounts and report unusual bills and invoices etc. And we have to change our passwords too.

On two occasions they state that Child Benefit payments will not be affected, but they are clearly not even sure if that will prove to be true — so they ask us to be vigilant and to contact them should problems arise (except for holidays)!

There is not a lot of certainty in this letter — apart from the certainty that they have seriously messed up.

On the bright side, there is no evidence that it is in the hands of criminals — but, as the data is lost, there seems to be no evidence that it isn’t in criminal’s hands. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence full-stop.

Looking to the future, they are NOW making all efforts to ensure this cannot happen AGAIN. Yeah, great, thanks for that.

We noted that they have at least recognised that there is potential for criminal advantage to be made from the situation if not from the data itself; one of the first things to occur to me was that even if the discs had fallen down the back of a desk, because of the high media profile, anyone could telephone anyone else and pretend to be HMRC (etc) in order to get people to divulge data.

The first thing to occur to me upon receipt of this letter, was that there would be at least seven and a half million of them — that is a lot of time, effort, paper, envelopes, ink and postage stamps merely to tell us that which we had already gleaned from the television, radio and newspapers.

There has to be the lowest level ever reached by any public body.

We are extremely annoyed about this whole thing; it directly affects us — and it is sheer incompetence! Most bog-standard e-mail accounts are more secure that the government’s Child Benefit system! I work for client who have exacting demands with regard to data security, and I always assumed that the government would be even more exacting! We are just amazed by all this!

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised — and this letter is an apology (it contains two apologies in fact), so at least they are not trying to cover it up I suppose. It’s not the first data loss, or the first instance of incompetence in data protection — the BBC has timeline of such events on their website.

Look, the basic functions of a government (as I was told at school some years ago) are:

  1. Defence of the realm and protection of sovereignty — yet look what is happening with Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and “The War on Terror”
  2. Protection of it’s citizens, in terms of safety and health — yet we have anthrax, mad cow, blue tongue, MRSA, problems with the NHS, problems with NICE (especially the wet macular degeneration wonder drug u-turn), high levels of obesity, heart disease, etc.
  3. Protection of it’s citizens, in terms of wealth — yet recently the economy is a problem, people have been flooded out of their homes, house prices are falling, and there are all sorts of stealth taxes, etc.
  4. Protection of it’s citizens in terms of law — criminal and civil — yet we have new laws that take away our civil liberties/ freedoms, new housing laws, restrictive traffic laws, strange copyright laws and more — such that it is almost impossible to go through life without inadvertently breaking a law.
  5. Accountable and responsible government — yet we have corruption regarding the Scottish elections, the Scottish Parliament building, the MSP’s massive expenses, the recent sleaze scandals regarding the funding of the New Labour party or UK government, and “buying” peerages, and now this loss of data!

How bad can it get, we wonder? We have to report that we have now completely lost confidence in the government. They just seem unable to do anything right! The onus seems to have shifted — it’s everyone for themselves!

We are going to change everything completely within the next six months, and we mean everything. You just can’t trust anyone these days.

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