Page last updated at 19:39 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 20:39 UK

Peers back data recklessness law

Peers want a new offence of recklessly disclosing people's information

Peers have backed a Liberal Democrat move to make it an offence for public or private sector workers to "recklessly" disclose people's details.

They called for it to be an offence to "intentionally or recklessly" disclose data or "repeatedly and negligently" allow it to be disclosed.

Ministers argued it was "premature" as inquiries were under way into breaches such as the loss of 25m people's data.

But the government was defeated by just four votes.

The amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill was put forward by Lib Dem peer Baroness Miller.

The public need to be able to depend on data controllers to be absolutely reliable
Baroness Miller

The Tories had put forward a similar amendment, which would have applied only to the government or companies working for it - not the private sector.

But Baroness Miller told peers: "If you are a member of the public it doesn't actually matter if it is the public or private sector that is losing your data. The fact is your data has been lost.

"The public need to be able to depend on data controllers to be absolutely reliable and to do their absolute utmost in safeguarding those people's personal information."

Child benefit data

It emerged last November that two discs containing the entire child benefit database had been lost after HM Revenue and Customs sent discs to the National Audit Office unregistered and unencrypted.

They contained personal details of 25m people, including bank details, National Insurance numbers and children's names, addresses and dates of birth.

This is a very important matter and we are taking it very seriously
Lord Hunt
Justice minister

Since then other losses of data have emerged, including the theft of a Royal Navy laptop containing 600,000 people's details and the loss of a computer hard drive containing details of three million learner drivers.

Junior justice minister Lord Hunt said there were inquiries under way into recent data breaches and it was "premature" to bring in legislation at this stage.

He added: "This is a very important matter and we are taking it very seriously." But the amendment was carried by 134 to 130 votes.

The government also suffered another defeat on the bill, relating to violent offender orders.

The Tories, backed by the Lib Dems, asked for a detailed list of what exactly the imposition of such an order would mean for the recipient.

Home Office minister Lord West said there was no one single solution, so an exhaustive list of conditions would not be appropriate as courts would be able to "exercise their discretion". But the amendment was carried by 127 votes to 116, a majority of 11.

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