LONDON (Reuters) - The Ministry of Defence said on Friday more than twice as many laptops had been lost or stolen in the last four years than previously thought, along with 121 computer memory sticks, some containing secret information.
This is the latest revelation about lost data which has caused embarrassment to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government and led to accusations of incompetence from political opponents.
In a written parliamentary answer, Defence Secretary Des Browne said 747 laptops had been stolen or lost from the MoD in the last four years, 400 more than originally reported.
Of these, only 32 had been recovered.
That came a day after Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth gave a written statement to parliament in which he said 121 USB memory devices, five of which contained secret data, had gone astray in the last four years.
“It seems that this government simply cannot be trusted with keeping sensitive information safe,” said Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather who submitted the question about memory sticks.
“It is frightening to think that secret MoD information can be lost or stolen. This shows a shocking degree of incompetence across the entire government.”
In January, the MoD admitted a Royal Navy officer’s laptop had been stolen containing the personal details of up to 600,000 people.
A report concluded that a “serious security event of this nature was inevitable” and there was little assurance that information was being properly protected.
The MoD said any data loss was fully investigated and was working on an action plan to improve the handling of personal information.
“A recent report on data losses by Sir Edmund Burton found that MOD policies and procedures are generally fit for purpose but also identified a number of areas where MOD needs to do better in protecting personal data,” a MoD spokeswoman said.
The government’s most embarrassing data loss occurred last year when details of 25 million child benefit claimants were lost by the Revenue and Customs department.
A week later, information on three million learner drivers went missing, while in June this year a computer containing restricted information was stolen from the office of cabinet minister Hazel Blears .
The losses have prompted calls from the opposition parties for the government to end plans to bring in national identity cards, arguing ministers could not be trusted with the public’s personal data.
Reporting by Michael Holden