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Alastair Revell is the Managing Consultant of Revell Research Systems, a Management and Technology Consulting Practice based at Exeter in the United Kingdom.
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farmers Weekly has reported that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has lost the payment details of every farmer in the United Kingdom that has ever claimed a farm payment. The details include names and addresses, bank details, passwords and security questions and apparently were not encrypted. The number of farmers affected is believed to be around 100,000.

The details were leaked to Farmers Weekly by frustrated civil servants working on the single payments system and an external consultant who was advising on the system.

The whistle-blowers allege that 39 backup tapes went missing last year when they were transferred from offices in Reading to Newcastle. Thirty-seven tapes have been recovered, but two are still unaccounted for.

The whistle-blowers were concerned that the RPA and DEFRA would remain tight-lipped over the incident. According to Farmers Weekly, DEFRA has admitted that tapes went missing, but has told them that the data was not lost in transit and was instead misplaced within the data centre.

DEFRA has also admitted that the data on the tapes was not encrypted, but insists information could not be accessed without specialised technical equipment and knowledge. The government department has also insisted that the risks posed to farmers are very low.

Apparently, the tapes were last seen in June 2008, but were discovered as missing by the contractor, IBM, in May 2009. There loss has only just become public knowledge in late October 2009.

Obviously, this will do little to bolster the general public’s justifiable lack of confidence in the government’s ability to safe-guard their data. The question is soon going to be what data has the government not lost!

However, as I have said before, I do not believe that the government is actually anymore cavalier with data than the private sector. It is just that the government is an easier target to expose. I believe the data handling procedures of many commercial organisations are equally poor.

This most recent loss has barely hit the headlines, probably because it is no longer newsworthy to say that the government leaks like a colander. The next organisation to be vilified by the press for data loss may well come from the private sector…

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Saturday, October 31, 2009 3:01:56 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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