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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 18:06 GMT
New data blow for ministers
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

This was the day ministers wanted to tell MPs how they had got a grip on data protection.

Ruth Kelly
Ms Kelly: Stressed this lost data did not include bank details
Instead it was the day the transport secretary Ruth Kelly had to reveal the details of 3 million learner drivers had gone astray from a company in the US.

In other words, rather than making things look better, the two Commons statements - from Chancellor Alistair Darling and Ms Kelly - probably managed to make them appear worse.

Undoubtedly, the new government-wide procedures suggested by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to protect sensitive data will make things more secure.

But his report, commissioned in the wake of the loss of two data discs with bank details of some 25 million individuals, sounded to many like the clunk of stable doors closing.

It was this report which chancellor Alistair Darling had undoubtedly hoped would help draw a line under the crisis surrounding the data discs but which, in the end, was overshadowed by the latest revelation surrounding learner drivers' data.

No fraud

The transport secretary came to the Commons to confirm the latest data breach, which once again stunned MPs on all sides of the house.

She also attempted to reassure MPs and the public that there was no evidence any fraud had been committed as a result.

Tory election poster
This old election poster shows that trust is a key battleground
But the one thing the government has attempted to resist is any notion that the lack of security around personal data is systematic, as claimed by the Tories.

That assurance took a serious knock with Ms Kelly's announcement.

Similarly, the latest incident once again raised major questions over the government's plan to create a national identity database to accompany its controversial ID card scheme.

And the Tories suggested Ms Kelly's proposals for "spy in the sky" road pricing have also now been fatally undermined.

Worst of all for the government, however, the latest revelation - "historical" though it may be - adds yet more pressure to Gordon Brown, who has already suffered a bloody few weeks.

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It gives the opposition parties fresh ammunition in their campaign to portray the Brown government as incompetent.

The new revelations also dismayed Labour backbenchers who were already groaning from the series of setbacks that have hammered the government.

The police and information commissioner insist there has been no fraudulent activity and, on the driver details, it has been stressed the details were hard to extract and did not, in any case, include financial information.

But with identity theft a growing concern, that has done little to satisfy the opposition parties.

And, with these two sets of data still missing, MPs are deeply fearful there may yet be worse to come.



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