Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 10:36 UK

Previous cases of missing data

Blunders involving sensitive official information have hit the headlines

There has been a series of cases where confidential information has been lost or stolen.

Several laptops containing sensitive data have gone missing and files marked Top Secret have been left on a commuter train.

In one of the most high-profile cases, a private consulting firm lost a computer memory stick containing the details of tens of thousands of prisoners.

Here are other cases to emerge in the recent past:


It emerged that data lost from RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire the previous September included 500 highly sensitive files, containing details of individuals' extra-marital affairs, debts and drug use.

An internal MoD memo passed to the BBC warned that the material "provides excellent material for Foreign Intelligence Services and blackmailers".

On the same day, a report from the Information Commissioner told the NHS to improve its data security, after the watchdog took action against 14 NHS organisations in the last six months.


A health worker in Lancashire lost a memory stick containing the medical details of more than 6,000 prisoners and ex-prisoners from HMP Preston.

The data was encrypted, but the password had been written on a note which was attached to the stick when it was misplaced.


A memory stick - holding passwords for a government computer system - was found in the car park of a pub in Staffordshire.

The Gateway website gives access to services including tax returns and child benefits. The memory stick was lost by an employee of a subcontractor called Atos Origin.


A computer hard drive containing the personal details of about 100,000 of the Armed Forces was reported missing during an audit carried out by IT contractor EDS.

It is thought to contain more than 1.5m pieces of information, possibly unencrypted, including the details of 600,000 potential recruits, a small amount of information about bank details, passport numbers, addresses, dates of birth, driving licence details and telephone numbers.

The Ministry of Defence police said it was investigating the disappearance but it is not yet known whether or not it was stolen.


The government confirmed that a portable hard drive holding details of up to 5,000 employees of the justice system was lost in July 2007.

The details of employees of the National Offender Management Service in England and Wales, including prison staff, were lost by a private firm, EDS.

Officials only realised the data was missing in July of this year. Justice Secretary Jack Straw launched an inquiry.

Also this month, the MoD admitted that tens of thousands of personnel files had been lost from RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire.

Hard disks containing the data, which included names, addresses and some bank account details, were taken from a secure area.


Home Office contractor PA Consulting admitted losing a computer memory stick containing information on all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales.

It also held personal details of about 10,000 prolific offenders.

The Home Office suspended the transfer of all further data to the private firm pending the outcome of an investigation.

An Information Commissioner's investigation later ruled that the Home Office had broken data protection laws over the incident and must sign a formal undertaking to improve its procedures in future.


The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 121 computer memory sticks and more than twice as many laptops than previously thought have been lost or stolen in the past four years.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth gave a written statement to parliament saying 121 USB memory devices had gone astray - five of which contained secret data.

And in a parliamentary written answer, Defence Secretary Des Browne said 747 laptops had been stolen - 400 more than originally reported. Of those, 32 have been recovered so far.


A senior intelligence officer from the Cabinet Office was suspended after documents were left on the seat of commuter train from London Waterloo. A passenger later handed them to the BBC.

The seven-page file, classified as "UK Top Secret", contained a report entitled "Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities" and an assessment of the state of Iraq's security forces.

Cabinet Minister Ed Miliband said there had been a "clear breach" of security rules, which forbid the removal of such documents from government premises.

But Mr Miliband said national security did not seem to be "at risk".

Two inquiries - one by the Cabinet Office, the other by the Metropolitan Police - have been launched.


An Army captain's laptop was taken from under his chair as he ate in a McDonald's, near the Ministry of Defence's Whitehall headquarters.

The MoD said the data on the laptop was not sensitive, and was fully encrypted.

This is the latest MoD laptop theft to be made public and it came after the government tightened the rules on employees taking computers out of work.

Whitehall staff are now banned from taking unencrypted laptops or drives containing personal data outside secured office premises.


A laptop computer belonging to a Royal Navy officer was stolen from car in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

It contained the personal details of 600,000 people who had expressed an interest in, or applied to join, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the RAF.

It contained data including passport numbers, National Insurance numbers and bank details.

Defence Secretary Des Browne later admitted the inquiry into the loss of the Royal Navy officer's laptop uncovered two similar thefts since 2005.

At the time, Dr Liam Fox, shadow defence secretary, said 68 MoD laptops had been stolen in 2007, 66 in 2006, 40 in 2005 and 173 in 2004.


The details of three million candidates for the UK driving theory test went missing in the US.

Names, addresses and phone numbers - but no financial information - were among the details stored on a computer hard drive, which belonged to a contractor working for the Driving Standards Agency.

The information was sent electronically to contractor Pearson Driving Assessments in Iowa and the hard drive was then sent to another state before being brought back to Iowa, where it went missing.

Ministers said the information had been formatted specifically to meet the security requirements of Pearson Driving Assessments and was not "readily usable or accessible" by third parties.


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) lost two computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people - covering 7.25 million families overall.

The two discs contained the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details of people who received child benefit. They also included National Insurance numbers.

They were sent via internal mail from HMRC in Washington, north-east England, to the National Audit Office in London on 18 October, by a junior official, and never arrived.

The Metropolitan Police were informed of the loss in November and extensive searches began.

In December, a reward of £20,000 was offered for the return of the two discs, but they were never recovered.

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