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Security scandal hits Government; Loss of data a huge embarrassment.

Byline: By EXAMINER News Correspondent

THE Government was reeling from a fresh data security scandal today after Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly revealed that personal details of more than three million learner drivers had been lost.

A hard drive missing from a "secure facility" in Iowa contained names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, but not any financial data such as credit card or bank account numbers.

It is another huge embarrassment for the Government which was also forced to report that two computer discs containing sensitive information on 25 million people had still not been found.

Chancellor Alistair Darling gave a non-committal update to MPs on the Poynter Review into the missing child benefit database, saying its full conclusions would not be known until next year.

The latest security breach, which involved Pearson Driving Assessments Ltd, a private contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, was made known to the relevant minister in June.

But Ms Kelly said she did not become aware of the issue until an audit of her Department's security was carried out in the wake of the child benefit controversy.

The records contained the learner-driver's name, postal address, phone number, the test fee paid, their test centre, a code indicating how the test was paid for and an e-mail address, she told MPs.

But they did not feature bank account or credit card details, driving licence numbers, National Insurance numbers or dates of birth so individuals were not being informed.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas advised her that the loss did not pose a "substantial risk", she said.

And the disk was "formatted specifically to fit Pearson configuration" and was not easily read by third parties, she added, saying steps were being taken to guard against future risks.

Her admission came after Mr Darling told MPs that there was little progress in the probe into the loss of the two child benefit discs, despite widespread police searches and the offer of a pounds 20,000 reward for their return.

PricewaterhouseCoopers chairman Kieran Poynter, appointed to lead the investigation, had said his work was "far from complete", Mr Darling reported. He will complete his work next year.

Mr Darling repeated assurances that the police had no intelligence as yet that the data had fallen into the wrong hands and that the banks had uncovered no evidence of fraud.

But the latest developments drew scorn from opposition politicians.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the loss of the learner drivers' details "shows a systemic failure within the Government's data protection controls".

"The words Labour and incompetence are now synonymous.

Labour is failing in its duty to obey its own laws on data protection and failing in its primary and fundamental duty to protect the interests of the people it was elected to serve," she said.

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UNDER PRESSURE: Ruth Kelly
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:471
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