NEWS

U.K.: Third Data Breach in One Week

By Matthew Harwood

The British government suffered its third data breach in one week when a computer hard drive was stolen from a government department last Saturday.

In response, Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered his cabinet to make sure all permanent secretaries review their information security arrangements, reports the Financial Times.

The hard drive was swiped from the constituency office of the communities secretary, Hazel Blears.The department said no damage had been done because the computer did not contain secret or top-secret information and was password-protected.

Nevertheless, the Guardian reports that information on the hard drive violated the government's data protection rules.

It emerged last night that the information on the computer had been sent to Blears in breach of data protection rules when the Department of Communities and Local Government admitted its officials had "not fully" complied with guidance on handling sensitive data.

The department's top civil servant, Peter Housden, said in a statement: "It is clear that papers have been sent to Hazel Blears in a way that is not fully consistent with the departmental guidance."

Tories, however, aren't so sure no damage was done by the breach. Of the three e-mails known to have been sent to Blears' computer, one dealt with battling violent extremism, including strategies to fund youth groups and fight radicalization in mosques.

The improper transmission of sensitive information from Blears' department to her computer may constitute a violation of the Official Secrets Act and may spark an investigation, according to the Guardian.

"The news that a government minister may have been directly responsible for the loss of data relating to extremism is extremely alarming," said Dominic Grieve, shadow home secretary.

The theft of the hard drive is only one of three data breaches that occurred in a span of five days. Last Tuesday, a senior intelligence officer left files relating to al Qaeda's vulnerabilities and the poor performance of Iraq's security forces on a commuter train. He has since been suspended. On Saturday, Blears' hard drive was snatched. Finally, on Sunday, more sensitive national security files, this time relating to terrorist financing, were left on another commuter train.

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