A survey of more than 1,000 British people has shown that only one in 10 trusts the Government to look after personal data properly.
By contrast, people were more prepared to provide information to their employers or to banks, but online retailers are trusted even less than the Government.
The report, compiled by Dynamic Markets from an omnibus study by ICM Research, was based on interviews with 1,048 people in mid-February. While most showed themselves to be quite trusting, especially with close family, their faith in Government and civil servants is low.
Despite that general mistrust, opinion over the proposal to introduce National ID cards was split, with 41% in favour of identity cards and 40% against them. The main reason for opposition to the cards is a feeling that the Government will not provide personal data protection.
This is hardly surprising given the series of embarrassing losses of data at the end of last year from departments as diverse as HM Revenue & Customs, the DVLA and the Ministry of Defence.
Two-thirds of those opposed to ID cards, or undecided, had doubts about the Government's competence with technology, and nearly all (93%) felt the Government's track record of dealing with personal data protection was poor, and 56% said they did not trust civil servants any more to look after their information.
But criticism was not confined to the public sector. The research also asked people about the information they were required to handle in the course of their work.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who used a computer at work said they dealt with what they considered to be sensitive or private information relating to clients or staff. But only 37% of that group said they were given a means of encrypting the sensitive information, files or emails.
"Most people are against ID cards because of fears over their own privacy," said David Tomlinson, managing director of Data Encryption Systems, which sponsored the research. "It seems a lot of them think the Government are slightly reckless and cavalier with their information. They also think the Government lacks competence to look after it."
Tomlinson said Government departments were now starting to take encryption more seriously, although no firm orders had come through since the spate of breaches in the last few months. "Before, when we talked to them we got the impression they were just window-shopping and it was all rather hypothetical. Now they seem to be serious, we are doing a number of pilot schemes, and they are asking sensible questions," he said.
He also noted a shift in emphasis. Last year, he said a lot of organisations were stipulating whole-disk encryption in their invitation to tender. "That is very much a blanket solution that can cause administration problems. But now people are asking about data security in transit and in email – they are focusing on the data itself. We have had more enquiries since Christmas than the whole of last year - and not one stipulating full-disk encryption. I think the lost HMRC CDs have brought that home to people."