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21 January 2008, 19:04

UK military loses personal details of recruits

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The Ministry of Defence has admitted losing personal data on 600,000 recruits and applicants to the armed forces. A Royal Navy recruitment officer stored the names, passport numbers and insurance numbers of people who had applied or been accepted to the military on his laptop, together with information about their marital status, and left it lying on the passenger seat of his car overnight. Next morning, he found the car had been broken into and the laptop stolen. The theft happened on guarded military land, and how the thief smuggled the notebook off the military site has yet to be established.

The theft occurred on 9 January, but for procedural reasons the investigators did not inform the public about it until Friday. The stolen data also included details of 3,500 bank accounts. The British authorities informed those affected shortly after the theft. This is the fourth publicised data leak within just a few months. Gordon Brown's government is under heavy pressure for its careless handling of sensitive data and some database projects have even been postponed due to security concerns.

Defence minister Des Brown was forced to admit today that three military laptops have been stolen since 2005, and yet the data in this latest incident were not encrypted. Interviewed this morning on BBC Radio 4 Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, stated that the problem goes far deeper than whether the laptop used encryption or not - one should consider why such a volume of sensitive data was on a laptop in the first place and why that laptop was allowed to leave the building. Summing up, he asked "would any business let £600,000 out of the office to be left in a car overnight?"


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