Miércoles 28 de Noviembre de 2007, Ip nº 218

The Carelessness of the British
It's one of the worst privacy leaks ever in Britain. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling admitted on Tuesday that CDs containing the personal information of fully 40 percent of the British population -- 25 million people -- have gone missing after they were sent via unregistered, private courier in October. The disks, which contain national insurance numbers, names, addresses, birthdates, partner details, information about family members, and bank account information for all those who receive public benefits for children, never arrived at their destination.

The government under Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spent the last two days doing its best to control the damage. Brown, who was informed of the privacy breach on Nov. 10, apologized to the nation on Wednesday and promised that the government was doing everything it could to ensure that the data not be misused. Banks said they have taken a look at their records back to Oct. 18 when the data was lost but have noticed no unusual account activity.

There has been plenty such activity in the government, however. The CDs were lost between the country's tax collection agency, called Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and the National Audit Office, which monitors government spending. Revenue and Customs chair John Gray resigned on Tuesday and pressure is growing on Darling to do the same.

Conservative leader David Cameron said the government had "failed its first duty to protect the public." The Tories have also questioned whether Alistair Darling is "up to the job" of finance minister. They charge senior officials with partial responsibility for the error, while the government maintains it was the work of a junior staff member, who is said to have resigned.

Darling announced on Wednesday that all 7.25 million bank accounts affected by the lost data were being monitored by the banks and that any losses resulting from the breach would be compensated for under the banking code. German commentators on Thursday take a look at the growing scandal.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The prime minister is not directly to blame, nor does he bear immediate responsibility for this hair-raising mishap. But if the conservative opposition is casting doubt on Darling, finance minister and close Brown confidante ... then it falls on the prime minister as well. It also confirms the already widespread impression that the first half year under Gordon Brown has been less a success story than a disoriented flounder. Putting off new elections this year -- after one impressive speech by the opposition leader -- was the first sign of cowardice. The loss of the data is nothing less than a security and political fiasco. British voters will be curious to see how much responsibility Brown assumes."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The Brits, like all people, must pay a price for their virtues. The flipside of their tolerance is carelessness if not outright sloppiness.... Now, though, tolerance has reached its limits: to lose the complete computer data of all receivers of children's assistance in the mail is more than a crime. It's utter stupidity."

"The regulations for handling such material are incredibly strict. But those regulations are often ignored -- out of carelessness. The British have seen, for example, the result of such carelessness in the nation's hospitals: Every year some 5,000 people die from diseases they catch after being checked in. Now the government has announced a 'Deep clean' policy for the National Health System. Immigration authorities also know that illegal immigrants should not be getting work permits. Nonetheless, 10,000 of them -- as was recently made public -- managed to find jobs with security services, one in the garage responsible for the prime minister's limousine. Inefficiency and incompetence: what's to ward it off? The Brits have had enough."

  22/11/2007. Spiegel Online.