LONDON (Reuters) - The personal details of thousands of prison staff working in England and Wales have been lost by a government contractor in the latest data security breach to embarrass the British government.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw has ordered an inquiry into the data loss that involves up to 5,000 prison staff members after a hard drive was lost by technology company EDS in 2007.
The Ministry of Justice said it believed the missing data was not in the public domain and “remains on EDS premises”. An EDS spokesman declined to comment on the likely whereabouts of the missing drive.
“I’ve ordered an urgent inquiry into the circumstances and the implications of the data loss and the level of risk involved,” said Straw, who was unhappy he was only told of the incident on Saturday two months after the prison service learnt of the loss.
“I have also asked for a report as to why I was not informed as soon as my department became aware of this issue,” he said.
“Officials are also in touch with EDS as part of these processes. We take these matters extremely seriously.”
The data loss is likely to have affected administrative staff working for the prison service rather than prison or probation officers.
“A senior director in the prison service has updated the POA (Prison Officers’ Assocation) and has committed to keeping them updated,” the MOJ spokesman said.
“They have reassured them, as ministers have said, that we will do all we can to mitigate any impact this might have on individuals. However, we believe this information is not in the public domain,” he said.
The POA has called for the government to end the EDS contract and threatened strike action.
“I would hope that the government terminates the contract with EDS immediately following their deliberate act of withholding information and placing at risk thousands of prison service staff,” said the POA’s general secretary Brian Caton.
The POA’s national chairman Colin Moses said: “In Northern Ireland our members and their families’ lives were at risk following the loss of personal data and this union threatened to take the ultimate strike action.
“If necessary we will do the same on this occasion.”
EDS said it was working with the MOJ to assess the level of risk involved in the data loss, but also declined comment over the POA’s strike threat.
In May, EDS was one of the five technology companies the government offered a “framework” contract over its controversial 4.7 billion pound identity card scheme over the next 10 years.
Last month police were called in after a different consultancy firm working for the government lost a computer memory stick.
The stick contained the personal details of every prisoner in England and Wales as well as the details of 33,000 serious offenders and people on drug rehabilitation programmes.
Last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered an urgent review after the tax authority HM Revenue and Customs said it had lost data on 25 million people, exposing them to the risk of identity theft and fraud.
For full coverage of British politics click here
Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by David Clarke