Government under pressure over HM Revenue & Customs data breach


Government under pressure over HM Revenue & Customs data breach

Warwick Ashford

Government is under increasing pressure from the opposition after yet another revelation of a data breach by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which yesterday (18 December 2007) admitted to losing the personal details of more than 6,500 pensioners.

The HMRC recently had to admit that discs containing 25 million people's child-benefit details were missing.

The latest admission immediately followed news that a US outsourcing company working for the Transport Ministry had lost computer discs containing the details of three million learner drivers.

As a result, the Conservative Party has asked the European Commission to investigate whether the government is in breach of any of its obligations under EU Data Protection Directives.

"The data protection directives impose serious obligations on the government to safeguard personal information," said Shadow Transport Secretary, Theresa Villiers.

However, data protection legal experts said opposition complaints were not likely to result in any direct action or sanctions against the UK government by the European Commission.

"The EC view is likely to be that it is a matter for the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas," said Paula Barrett, partner and head of data protection at law firm Eversheds.

She said it would be more effective in terms of holding the government responsible to call for an investigation in terms of UK law.

"Going to the European Commission is more of an embarrassment tactic," said Barrett.

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