Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Thursday, 29 November 2007

Data disc report 'in three weeks'

Alistair Darling
Mr Darling said security needed tightening up

An interim report into how two discs containing the personal details of 25 million people went missing is expected in December, the chancellor has said.

Alistair Darling also said some other missing discs would also be looked at as part of the Keiran Poynter inquiry.

"We will have his interim report in about three weeks' time... I intend to report to the House," he told MPs.

The Commons breaks up for Christmas on 18 December. It is not clear whether the report will be published by then.

HM Revenue and Customs sent two discs containing the entire child benefit databse, unregistered and unencrypted, to the National Audit Office by courier in October - but they did not arrive.

Fraud alert

The government has apologised and said there was no evidence the discs had fallen into the wrong hands - HM Revenue and Customs says they are probably still on government property.

But millions of families have been told to be on alert for fraudsters using their details, stored on the discs, which include bank details, National Insurance numbers and children's names, addresses and dates of birth.

We do need to have a thorough look at how information is transferred, ask ourselves if it needs to leave a building in the first place
Alistair Darling

During his regular Treasury questions in the Commons Mr Darling agreed security needed toughening up particularly regarding "bulk transfer".

But Tory MP Gregory Barker said the issue went "much, much wider" and said one of his constituents had been told HMRC sent a disc containing his personal details to his pension provider Standard Life. He asked how many others had gone missing.

Mr Darling said that would be included in the inquiry currently being carried out by Mr Poynter, UK chairman at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, into the circumstances surrounding the loss of the discs.

He said an interim report would be ready in about three weeks, and a full report by spring 2008.

'Worst way'

The Tories also accused Mr Darling of complacency, saying a report from the National Audit Office suggested there was a seven-day gap between the chancellor learning of the breach, and a search of premises beginning.

Mr Darling said he had asked HMRC investigations officers to search the buildings and then the police were called in.

He said various buildings had been searched "at various times as it became clear that these disks had gone missing".

Lib Dem MP John Hemming asked why discs were still being sent from the HMRC offices "and only encrypted when necessary" - which he said was the "worst possible way of doing this".

Mr Darling said it was "quite normal" for information to be sent between officers.

But he added: "We do need to have a thorough look at how information is transferred, ask ourselves if it needs to leave a building in the first place, and if it does need to, what is the necessary security encryption or other security measure appropriate."

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