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Preparing for the backlash

Brian Taylor | 16:19 UK time, Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Not, all in all, the best of weeks for the Right Honourable Member for Edinburgh South West (incidentally, en passant, somebody should tell the Downing Street website that Alistair Darling’s constituency has changed. Noticed the other day they still reckon his seat is Edinburgh Central).

Firstly, Mr Darling had to confront highly sceptical MPs over the vast sums of public money diverted to Northern Rock.

This afternoon, he was back in the Commons giving details of data lost by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

And that data involved? Nothing too serious. Just details of 25 million individuals from 7.5 million families.

Just details of every recipient of Child Benefit. Just their names. Their addresses. Their family facts. Oh, and details of their bank accounts.

Mr Darling looked suitably severe as he said this was “an extremely serious failure.” I suppose restrained language was justified. But this was more than serious. This is a simply gargantuan guddle.

The bare narrative is beyond belief. Asked by the National Audit Office for comparable data in March, a junior official at HMRC duly complied.

Another approach from the NAO was made in October. gain, utterly ignoring all rules - and simple common sense - aother couple of discs were sent into the wild blue yonder via a courier company.

These were lost - and have yet to be found. Did this trouble our gallant officials? Not a bit of it. They sent off another batch of info - this time by registered post! Comfortingly, it got through.

There is apparently “no reason to believe that this data has found its way into the wrong hands”. Banks have put safety measures into force. Mr Darling says the data, of itself, is not enough to access bank accounts.

Here’s hoping he’s right. Here’s hoping those assurances are enough. Here’s hoping there won’t be unjustified public panic (public concern is entirely justified. Public anger you may take as read).

From the opposition benches, shadow chancellor George Osborne queried the purpose of MPs earnestly passing privacy laws when the basic rules could be so blatantly ignored at the heart of government. Quite.


  • 1.
  • At 04:33 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Ross wrote:

The UK government and the London Labour party in general are a total joke. This most recent calamity is a national disgrace.

The only conforting thing is that UK will not be around for too much longer. Its time for us to handle our own affairs so that things like this cannot happen again.

Labour can be trusted as far as you can throw them. Simple as that.

  • 2.
  • At 04:52 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Another day, another Labour disaster.

Gordon Brown's government has done something remarkable. Brown, his closest advisors and his ministers have managed to become less popular than Tony Blair's government, and in only 6 months.

It must be some sort or record.

I expect a record this government now wishes will get lost in the post.

  • 3.
  • At 05:41 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Confiteor wrote:

Many, including George Osborne, are arguing that the HMRC debacle means ID cards are dead in the water. After all, how could we trust the Government to protect that information if they can't protect what they have already.

But I think they are wrong. In fact, I could almost believe this has been engineered to bring about ID cards.


Well, regardless of whether we ever find out if this data has fallen into the "wrong hands" or not, it doesn't matter --- the authorities will say we can't take the risk.

There now exists either the possibility of identity fraud on a mass scale for decades to come. Effectively every child in Britain has been exposed to the chance of having their identity cloned for any number of fraudulent schemes.

So the argument will eventually be put forward that the only way of protecting them from this catastrophic "mistake" is to bring in a new system that relies on the one thing that can't be cloned --- DNA/biometrics.

Create the fear; provide the solution.

Oldest trick in the book.

  • 4.
  • At 05:45 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Robbie wrote:

In response to closing remark of the 1st comment, it's not "as simple as that".

In reality it so not a straight forward as Labour are crap but that the huge date bases this Government insists in supporting are always going to be insecure.

Even Microsoft say it's dangerous to maintain identity data bases on the level planned by the Government as no level of security can prevent them from being compromised at some future date.

The Government should learn from this and scrap their £5.4 billion scheme for ID cards and a national identity database.

  • 5.
  • At 05:55 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • louise wrote:

This is a national disgrace. The chancellor should resign now. I phoned the helpline and i was told that they didnt think it had left the HMRC. However when i asked so i dont need to check my bank account i was told. "No you need to monitor your account to make sure there is no suspicious activity". As i said a disgrace they obviously do not have the first idea where the data is. Which means it could be sitting in criminal hands as we speak. I would also say to anyone reading this if you have used your kids birthdates or names as security passwords on your bank change them now.

  • 6.
  • At 07:34 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Dorothy Rothschild wrote:

I certainly hope this will serve to shut up the numptys who claim that National ID cards/central records are a good idea. These are the people who scream, 'if you have nothing to hide, why don't you want your data on file?'

Sadly, many of these people still probably won't get it.

  • 7.
  • At 07:47 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • sacrebleu wrote:

More than just a guddle Brian, surely, even if you describe it as a gargantuan one. It is a catastrophe in terms of personal security for millions of people.

How can we possibly now consider proceeding with a system of identity cards, based on this?

  • 8.
  • At 09:12 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Cait wrote:

How about a sense of perspective? Yes it was a stupid mistake but the chances of the data being used for fraudulent purposes are slight. Meantime you have a media panic and people getting worked up about the theft of their 'identity' as if that really was a commodity to be bought, sold and stolen - as the financial services companies and governments continually tell them.

  • 9.
  • At 09:22 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Peter Forsyth wrote:

The most worrying thing is the damage Darling and Gordon Brown are doing to the image of Scotland, there is a growing resentment to them in England because they are Scottish and when they continue to show just how incompitent they are then it reflects badly on our country.
Despite all this people still vote for a totally discredited Labour party, Wendy Alexander's inept performances in FMQ's, the loss of her 3rd spin doctor and her party's continuous negativity in the debating chamber.
The positive side is all this helps to illustrate how bad life has been under Labour.

  • 10.
  • At 09:28 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Colin Cornwall wrote:

Given that personal bank and building society details have been lost along with the corresponding names & addresses for so many people in the UK this has the potential to be the most long term costly blunder this government has yet made, the banks must be extremely worried as now this has been made public it must surely be their duty to ensure that no funds are fraudulently withdrawn more than just their responsibility?

  • 11.
  • At 09:35 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

#2 - very good point about id cards, could not agree more with you on that!
What will ministers have to do before Gordon Brown urges them to resign? Wee Dougie Alexander messes up the Scottish elections and is promptly sent off to lecture third world countries about their polls! Alistair Darling is allowed to remain in post despite presiding over the only bank run in modern british history, then making a potentially crippling commitment to effectively guarantee all depositors' money in all banks in the future ... and now this! Just to be clear, this did not actually happen in october and is only becoming public knowledge now? If so, the consequences should be dire for all those who knew and stayed quiet.

  • 12.
  • At 10:19 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • EPA wrote:

This really begs the question of the value (and the strength) of the Data Protection Act 1998 and its 7th principle: measures are to be taken to prevent... accidental loss or destruction of personal data. The ICO has an opportunity to really make a fuss about all this.... let's hope he does for the sake of all the information and records managers out there who are struggling to get heard in the boardrooms. So far his office seemed to have been quiet.
Making all this a political issue is an interesting one.... Have you looked in your own backyard to see how you are looking after your own personal information, or indeed the personal information that others give you about themselves? Do your organisation have procedures in place? Do you know about them, or do you rely on the office junior to know about them???

  • 13.
  • At 11:04 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Jim wrote:

Now is there not something called the data protection act? There is no problem with an identity card in my wallet I carry at least two issued by two different government departments; now this duplication is in its self a farce, likewise the current chip and pin cards that the banks issue. The banks went for the easy way out to save them having to re-equip now that same re-equipping is now being carried out.
The loosing of data not only once but twice and not telling the boss should mean that within the revenue and customs department we now require a root and branch gut out as well as the full might of the law to be carried out.
The boss falling on his sword is not good enough and all the pleading by the mandarins in the treasury will not please me one iota.

  • 14.
  • At 12:02 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Derick wrote:

Thank de Loard dat we go Westminsta to look after us. If we didn't imagine whatta mess we would be in. We'd have a £5,000 tax bill and that.!

  • 15.
  • At 12:26 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Brian McHugh wrote:

To number 3, Confiteor. I couldn't agree more. The UK government has become facist to it's core (Both Labour and Tory)...

You want another example... on Wednesday 14th November, a HYS on the BBC produced these responses to the proposal of increased detention for 'terrorists' to 58 days...

...Suprise suprise!!! literally 5 days later we get this story...

Has anyone here seen 'V for Vendetta' or read Orwells' 1984?

"Problem... Reaction... Solution!"
Oldest trick in the book right enough!

  • 16.
  • At 07:19 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Irving Parry wrote:

I would take issue with Peter Forsyth who thinks life has been bad under Labour. Perhaps he forgets, or chooses to forget, what life was like under the Conservatives. The Poll Tax; Skye Bridge Tolls, 17% VAT on fuel; Privatisation of the NHS; no annual fuel allowance for pensioners; and no free TV licenses for the elderly. Governments of all shades make mistakes. Remember Black Wednesday?. Norman Lamont lost us 7 billion pounds at a stroke. Did he resign?. Was he kicked out? Not a bit of it. He is now a Conservative Peer. Peter should perhaps reflect on the old adage, that every big organisation rushes to the protection of its idiots.

  • 17.
  • At 08:25 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

No 8

Sorry Cait, this is a huge huge HUGE mistake. Ni numbers, addresses, dates of birth etc for millions of people. It could easily lead to Identity fraud on a massive and costly scale not only to individuals, but to the banking system, the Legal system and eventually the economy. Id recommend anyone with a decent amount of money in a savings account to transfer it toa brand new account with brand new security measures. Im very surprised the government have not said so already but it would leave them with some egg on their faces I guess.

  • 18.
  • At 09:42 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Pendragon wrote:

Absolutely right Brian.

Alistair Darling has to do the honorable thing and resign immediately, and there must be no question of him being able to sneek back into the Cabinet as soon as the heat is felt to be off,as Blair allowed Mandelson and Blunket to do.

  • 19.
  • At 09:42 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Kevin Mcleod wrote:

Have the HMRC never heard of transmitting data over a network - secure, simple and quick....

Someone needs to ask why someone in the National Audit Office thought it was prudent to request a copy of all this sensitive information be put onto a CD, and sent to them, and to compound the problem someone in HMRC agreed...

I agree that politician and senior managment need to take this on the chin - after all it happened on their watch.

But is anyone asking about the middle management and how many of them will be falling on their sword regards this fundamental, and completely avoidable mess.

  • 20.
  • At 09:56 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Gordon wrote:

One other thing that seems to have passed most folk by is that the disks were sent by private courier, TNT.

However TNT say that as a premium service was not used they can't confirm if they even received them, and therefore will accept no liability.

Is this a by product of HMG's headlong rush to dismantle the Post Office?

  • 21.
  • At 11:25 AM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Christian Schmidt wrote:

What a bunch of incompetent, stupid, idiotic morons.

Oh, and no political resignations...

  • 22.
  • At 12:06 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • EricH wrote:

Under this westminster government I feel less secure now and less confident in the future security for myself and my family. Give all these government officials and MP's the Id cards and radio tags so that we know just where and who are the 'criminals'. How much will this mistake cost me and the other 7M+ families? It will cost the government officials nothing!

  • 23.
  • At 12:38 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • john wrote:

a disaster a day keeps the election away

  • 24.
  • At 02:20 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Tam McGowan wrote:

Next time we have Labour UK regional Scottish party members outlining the virtues and benefits of the UK, perhaps people can remind them of the -

£ 1,000 per woman, man and child that this complete and utter disgrace has cost the Scottish people.

Have people in Ireland, Denmark or Norway had to face this cost, answer "NO", they are independnet sovereign states.

Scotland has to pay similar burdens for soldiers in Iaq / Afaganistan, Trident, England's Royla Family, Millemium Dome, Wembley, Kings Cross St Pancras, ID cards and today's latest giving away people's identities.

What else will they take?

Roll on independence!

  • 25.
  • At 08:44 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Peter Forsyth wrote:

In response to Irving Parry, I have not chosen to forget how bad things were under the Tories because i truly believe things are a lot worse now, but not being a die hard Labour voter i have an open mind and do not have this ingrained hatred of all things Conservative coupled with a blind faith in all things Labour.
The difference now is that everything is hidden by spin, low unemployment hidden by those on incapacity, council tax doubled at least under Labour.You may feel that things have been better under Labour but i certainly do not share your opinion. Independence is the only way forward.

  • 26.
  • At 08:56 AM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Bill McMenemy wrote:

I've got the discs, I put them in the toaster to burn my name off.

  • 27.
  • At 09:24 AM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Bill McMenemy wrote:

I've got the discs, I put them in the toaster to burn my name off.

Hello Brian,

Let's get real here.

We are talking about millions of peoples personal identity here, and their bank security, etc, etc. In other words their lives, for as long as they live.

It is very serious indeed !.

And it's not only Mr Darling who should resign, it is also Mr Gordon Brown as he is the man in charge, and was involved in setting up the systems and giving it the ok.

This appears to be run by the same company who ran the election in May.

It appears that the DWP asked for people’s names and National Insurance Numbers ONLY, and was given the COMPLETE data on millions of people. Seemingly this was cheaper than filtering the data, which they should have done.

Very few people should have access to this information, and should not be able to access it, and remove it, without the highest security authority.

It really is basic computer security and Government must take their responsibilities seriously.

This could cost the Government, ie. you and me Billions of pounds.

And these are the same people who want to make it mandatory for people to give them all of their personal data, in the form of a Biological ID Card.

In the old system it is possible that you could eventually get a new account and password when things go wrong.

In the new Biological ID Card system, how is it possible to go out and get a new set of eyes or fingerprints if things go wrong.

Think about it !.

We haven't heard the last of this one yet.


  • 29.
  • At 12:53 AM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • Bill McMenemy wrote:

Where's Pickles, the World Cup dog? He'll find these cd's in no time flat.

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