Tougher laws to protect private data calls Justice Committee

The Justice Select Committee has called for measures to give the Information Commissioner new enforcement powers over protection of private data and to strengthen the criminal penalties for security breaches

The chairman of the Committee, Alan Beith MP, described the scale of losses by government bodies and contractors as "shocking".

"We have had points to further hidden problems," Beith says. "It is incredible that the measures HMRC has put in place - described in the Chancellor's statement of 17 December - were not already standard procedure."

The Report sets out key points from the evidence it received from Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. The Committee is "extremely concerned" that there are more cases involving personal data loss by government bodies or contractors which are still coming to light and that the Information Commissioner's warning this summer about the danger of extensive security lapses in a wide range of organisations have been proved correct.

"There is evidence of a widespread problem within government relating to establishing systems for data protection and operating them adequately," the Committee concludes.

The Committee also flags up the fact that concerns were raised two years ago in a report by Dr Mark Walport - now heading the government's main review of data protection - about the risks of what the acting Chairman of HMRC has now admitted were "systemic" failings in the handling of personal data.

The Committee calls for:

  • New laws making significant security breaches, where reckless or repeated, a criminal offence.
  • New reporting requirements that would require companies to report losses of data.
  • Fast implementation of the new enforcement powers for the Information Commissioner to conduct unannounced spot checks on government Department's data systems.
  • Better resources for the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Image: The Rt Hon Alan Beith MP described the scale of the data loss as "truly shocking"

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