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British Leader Apologizes After Taxpayer Information Security Breach


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has apologized and ordered a review after the personal financial details of about 25 million people were lost in the mail. The loss of the huge amount of sensitive information from the Revenue Department has sparked widespread fears of identity fraud and theft throughout the country. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Against standard procedures, a junior civil servant mailed two computer discs containing the sensitive data between two government departments. Those CDs never arrived and no one knows if they have fallen into criminal hands. They contain a treasure trove of information including names, birth dates, banking and address details.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a hostile session Wednesday in the House of Commons, where the competency of his government was questioned.

Leading those questions was Conservative opposition leader David Cameron.

"On a day when the government has lost the details of 25 million people, to try and blame the opposition is frankly pathetic," Cameron said. "Do you know what people want from their prime minister on a day like this, is for him to stand up, show some broad shoulders, be the big man and take some responsibility."

To which Prime Minister Brown responded.

"Mr. Speaker, I said right at the beginning I apologize for what has happened," Mr. Brown said. "Everyone who is a recipient of child benefit should know that we will take every proper procedure now to improve the working of HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) and to improve the working of every government department and agency and I have announced the inquiry not simply into the HMRC, but that the Secretary to the Cabinet will look at every government department and every agency."

Given the serious nature of this information security breach, Cameron then questioned Brown about whether his government could be trusted to properly secure the information it wants to hold on every person in Britain if the government's I.D. plan goes ahead.

"If the prime minister really wants to learn some lessons from this, will he recognize, will he recognize this appalling blunder comes at a time when the government is planning a national identity register to draw together private and personal details of every single person in this country," Cameron said. "Will the events of the last few days cause the prime minister to stop and think about this policy?"

Mr. Brown said despite the information breach, he still favors his plan of keeping personal information on everyone in Britain.

"What we have got to insure is identity fraud is avoided, and the way to avoid identity fraud ... is to say that where people have passport information ... then we will have the biometric support that is necessary so that people can feel confident ... that their identity is protected," Mr. Brown said.

But the mood in the country right now is that the government is not up to the task of safeguarding any such plan.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard has been brought in to lead in the search for those missing data discs. Banks have been alerted, but according to the prime minister, there have been no reported signs of fraudulent banking activity that could have resulted from the information contained on those revenue computer records.


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