Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Cost Cuts' Caused Security Scandal; Pressure Mounts but Prime Minister Insists Data Disks Fiasco Will Not Stop Introduction of ID Cards

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Cost Cuts' Caused Security Scandal; Pressure Mounts but Prime Minister Insists Data Disks Fiasco Will Not Stop Introduction of ID Cards

Article excerpt

Byline: By William Green Political Editor

THE loss of 25 million people's confidential information was last night blamed on Government cost-cutting.

Conservative leader David Cameron said there had been systematic failings and the Government had fallen down in its duty to protect the public.

He cast doubt on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's plans for a national identity register and ID cards after claims the huge security breach at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had occurred because of cost-cutting.

It is believed 300,000 families in the North-East might be affected.

Tory chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Edward Leigh said the National Audit Office (NAO) had originally asked only for basic facts on child benefit recipients - omitting details of bank accounts - but "high level" officials said it would be "too burdensome" to separate this data.

Mr Leigh later said he had been given a copy of a briefing note written by NAO head Sir John Bourn for the Chancellor, showing the NAO had asked for data in a "desensitised" form last March.

But it was said an unidentified HMRC senior business manager had written an email back - copying in a senior colleague at assistant director level - saying the request would be rejected as it would require an extra payment to data services provider EDS.

Both HMRC and the NAO said they were unaware of any dispute, but last night the scandal was raising pressure on ministers. During a stormy Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Gordon Brown told MPs he "profoundly regretted and apologised" for the loss. But he said the fiasco would not derail plans for identity cards.

Facing the Commons for the first time since the news broke, he announced checks on data handling by every Government department and agency. The promise came as police continued to search for two computer disks containing the information that disappeared when sent from an HM Revenue & Customs office in Washington, on Wearside, to the National Audit Office in London. …

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