A grim parliamentary season for Gordon Brown’s government came to an almost predictable end on Monday as another cabinet minister came to the Commons to admit the loss of personal data – this time the records of more than 3m learner drivers.
The latest blunder saw the loss of a hard disc containing the details of candidates for the driving theory test, which was lost in the US in May this year by a subsidiary of Pearson, owner of the Financial Times.
Ruth Kelly, transport secretary, apologised “for any uncertainty or concern these individuals may experience” and promised that her department was tightening up data security.
Conservatives attacked her for the six-month delay in telling MPs of the latest blunder.
Her statement, on the last day of substantive parliamentary business before Christmas, came after Alistair Darling, chancellor, apologised again for the loss of the data on 25m child benefit claimants as he gave an interim report on the security breach at HM Revenue & Customs. He said there was no evidence the discs had fallen into criminal hands.
There was also embarrassment for the Home Office after it emerged that a security guard working for it was arrested last week as part of an investigation into illegal immigrants.
Ms Kelly said the learner driver data were lost by Pearson Driving Assessments – a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency. She said the data, which included the name, e-mail address and phone number of test applicants, did not include financial details, dates of birth or a copy of the signature. It was “not readily usable or accessible” by third parties. She said the information commissioner had advised her last Friday that the loss “does not appear to present a substantial risk to individuals”.
Theresa Villiers, shadow transport minister, said it raised questions about government handling of unencrypted data.
Pearson said the data were held in Iowa at its worldwide data centre for Pearson Shared Services, which supports subsidiaries that include Pearson Vue, a company with a global network of test centres. The company’s contract with the agency stipulated that the data would be stored there, it said. The disc was a back-up that had been transferred to a facility in Minnesota.
Pearson said it deeply regretted the incident and such data were now transferred electronically.
Additional reporting by Nicholas Timmins in London