Civil servants: future data losses cannot be ruled out

Senior civil servants have defended the government's record on personal data at a conference in Westminster this week (1 February), saying they could not guarantee that losses will not happen in the future.

Senior civil servants have defended the government's record on personal data at a conference in Westminster this week (1 February), saying they could not guarantee that losses will not happen in the future.

John Suffolk, government chief information officer, said "checks and balances" need to be built into their information systems to ensure those with legitimate access to data do not misuse it. He said if something does go wrong, the government would have to rely on audit trails to lead them to the problem.

"If people are given the right training when they are employed here, there is an element of trust. If people do have legitimate access and do bad things, it is very hard to stop that. It comes down to checks and balances.

"We do need audit trails so we can see who has accessed the information. And we need to wait for the outcome of the various reports being carried out at the moment and get in any recommendations as quickly as we can. But you are not going to stop people doing the wrong things."

Debbie Ellis, head of shared services at the Department for Transport, said, "We need to clearly specify the roles of staff who handle data.

"In every government office there are papers lying around all over the place. They have similar types of data on them - the IT environment is far more secure than what we have had before. But we must take responsibility at a very operational level and manage security."

She said that people need to be realistic. "Guaranteeing there will not ever be losses is not going to happen."

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