Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Big Brother Goes Postal

Unusual as it is for me to write anything topical, tonight's news that several million people who receive Child Benefit in this country have had their personal details put on disc by the Revenue, mailed out and subsequently lost, has drop-kicked me out of my usual after dinner sofa-coma and forced me to post something of my own. To say the least, losing a third of the population's personal information (including national insurance numbers, bank and savings details, along with those of their children) with the worrying prospect of this stuff getting into the wrong hands, is a cock-up of huge proportions with the possibility of dire consequences (ID fraud and theft being just two). It adds to an already long and varied list of cock-ups made by governmental departments within the UK. Heads will no doubt roll, arses will inevitably be kicked. And rightly so. The shit is certainly hitting the fan, and frankly so it should. It comes to something when we can get a more secure service from Amazon when ordering an Amy Winehouse CD over the internet than we can from HM Revenue and Customs.

But will the right heads roll, and the correct arses be kicked? The Chairman of the Revenue has resigned, apparently, not even waiting to be given the slow hand-clap, (or would that be the golden hand-shake - I can never remember which one it is that senior figures get when they've bolloxed things up and have to leave), but in isolation what good will his departure do us? Probably none at all because he, no doubt (like many other people in charge of huge organisations) had absolutely no bloody idea of what really goes on at less exalted levels, and was probably blissfully ignorant of how or why certain things were being done or by whom. OK, maybe he can be blamed for that in itself, and morally I suppose that as the head bloke he may feel that falling on his own sword is the honourable thing to do, but you have to ask yourself this.

Who really ordered such sensitive information to be downloaded in the first place (and how was that possible, given that computers can always be programmed to say "no" if asked to perform an "illegal" task?), and which blithering idiot stuck the discs in the post, not even sending them recorded delivery? And who's idea was that? Not the Chairman's, I'll bet, yet he must carry the can.

There is, however, a silver lining of delicious irony to this particular grey cloud of institutional ineptitude - whoever finds those CDs might well find themselves in possession of the personal and banking details of some very important people, including government officials and even extremely senior cabinet ministers, and that would never do. Unless of course the security services find them first. Or have I been watching too many episodes of Spooks?

22 comments:

Norman said...

When it comes to filling in forms I use the "Geneva Convention" method.
Who I am, where I live, phone number and e-mail.That's all they need to know.
Whoever the faceless "they" are.

Swearing Mother said...

Very wise Norman. You never know who is doing what with your info these days.....

Kaycie said...

Crap! That's so bad, it sounds like something that would happen in the States.

Manic Mother Of Five said...

Hi S/M. Have just been listening to another grovelling apology on the tv when I read this. Very interesting too. Obviously with my sizable tribe I am going to be on that disk..........

Looking on the bright side, I am quite hoping someone infiltrates my darkest financial depths and magically makes my frighteningly large overdraft just somehow disappear..........

Well I can hope can't I!

debio said...

And the media 'grilling' goes on and on.

Surely heads will roll but what good will it do? And who sets up a system where such data can be downloaded anyway? (I think you mentioned that - sorry).

The only lot not interviewed - by the media - so far is TNT. Now, registered post or no, these packages must be somewhere and it's my experience that these private courier companies are a whole lot more efficicent than the Post Office.

So perhaps they never received the disks??

Heaven help you all should an ID system be voted through.

Norman said...

I rather suspect that cock-ups like this happened in the past too but information was less freely available so cover up was easy and we never got to know.

Uncle Gordon, our inglorious leader wants to bring in ID cards.
That IS worrying in the light of recent events.

Debra in France said...

I was stunned when I heard this news on the TV. It is unbelievable. You have a point when you say about what use is it that the Head Honcho has resigned. It was some lowly bod that downloaded the info in the first place - how can he/she have had access to download it is the first place, and how many disks did it take to download load that amount of info?!

The Grocer said...

Whilst this is a huge mistake at some level within the Inland Revenue I find it sad that all too many people are using it to further their own ends (i.e politicians not currently in government. Some civil servant makes a mistake so The Chancellor should resign? If we all followed this thinking we'd all be unemployed because none of us are above dropping the odd bollock.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

There will be a hell of a lot of very frightened people living on or near the breadline who are terrified that their details will be used to get them into spiraling debt. This is the saddest aspect of it all and they muist be worried sick aboutthe cnsequences. It's not an overnight think either, it could take months before something might turn up on their doorstep and so they have prolonged worry and stress.

The lunatics are in charge of the asylum!

Breezy said...

I'm gobsmacked (and glad I don't have to watch the endless post mortems on the news)Let's hope if this gets into the wrong hands the government will compensate people.Putting it right would be far more impressive than the sight of heads rolling

Tina said...

It's a shocker, it really is. But I work in an office, & I'd say it's almost certain that they never went in the post, some lowly numpty fuckwit had them on their desk, got panicked when the world went nuclear when they were lost & bugged them in the nearest shredding box.

Or is that just my office?

Swearing Mother said...

Hi Kaycie, I think this sort of thing probably happens everywhere unfortunately. I suppose looking on the plus side, at least we all get to hear about it.

MMOF: Hiya! Unfortunately I think the risk is that someone other than you would increase your overdraft rather than reduce it. Although, having said that, my husband always prays that someone would steal my ID as he thinks they would spend less than I do. Cheeky sod.

Debio, hello. I too wonder if those discs ever left the building as it seems odd that the courier company has no record of them. They're probably still on someone's desk back at the Revenue with a couple of coffee mugs resting on them.

Norman, I share your worry about ID cards and NHS records being totally computerised too. Imagine the fun someone could have with everyone's health records. Scarey.

Hi Debra in France: I too was so surprised that the computer system does not seem to have a restriction on the size of file which can be downloaded. We all assume that sensible protection is in place wherever a large amount of sensitive data is stored, but it just shows you the cavalier attitude of "the powers that be."

Swearing Mother said...

Hi Grocer, yes I agree it's pretty opportunistic of the opposition to use this f*ck up as ammo with which to pelt the government with, but that seems to be the way both sides behave towards each other, most of the time. They'd do better putting their energies into setting up failsafe systems rather than subscribing to the "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted" school of thought.

I don't think it would do any good at all sacking anyone high up either in the Revenue or the Government. Let the buggers stay on and sort the mess out themselves, I say.

MOB, you are right on the money, so to speak. As if folk haven't got enough to worry about, now they can have sleepless nights thinking about what some nefarious git could be getting up to in their name.

Swearing Mother said...

Breezy, hello! I agree with you that the senior people involved here should not be sacked but make it their mission in life to tighten up security and systems so that they are fit for purpose! The person who instructed the download, however, needs a serious talking-to. That was really, really stupid.

Hiya Tina: I guess you are probably nearer the truth than we all realise at this moment. There's probably some poor office junior absolutely pooping their pants right now, too scared to own up to the fact that they left the jiffy bag with the discs in by the coffee machine, and in the meantime the Revenue Chairman and maybe the Chancellor resign in disgrace for allowing this fiasco to happen. Oops.

Suzy said...

That's happened over here in the states with a huge insurance company. A senior member of the elite firm left his laptop in the car in NEW YORK CITY (DUH)
and it was stolen with many many records on them.

I'm sure it happens with our Government too. Hey do you guys want Bush over there? His time here is almost up! He'll be looking for another job...

Love

Suzy

Mopsa said...

We are on the same wave length!

Swearing Mother said...

Hi Suzy,it's unbelievable how so many senior officials are so incredibly cavalier with our details but so very protective of their own. Are they not taking their responsibilities seriously?
I think the answer to that would be a resounding NO.

Swearing Mother said...

Mopsa, hi. We are indeed on the same wavelength, I note from your post that you too are somewhat worried about the idea of ID cards etc. I personally don't see the point of them. If criminals can already duplicate passports, driving licences and credit cards, I guess ID cards would be a piece of cake for them to counterfeit, rendering the whole exercise useless.

And, of course, there is always the risk that the information gathered for the issue of such cards could end up getting lost in the post.......

JILLS said...

My feelings exactly. I could not believe it when I heard the news. Worse still, my brother - who lives in Denmark - mentioned it the same day the news got out which indicates to me that the entire world are laughing their socks off at the ineptidude of the British Government.

The FA were quick enough to kick Steve McClaren out. Now just, who, may I ask, is going to be quick enough to kick this government out and say enough is enough. Let's put the Great back in Great Britain before it's too bloody late.

Or is it already too bloody late!!!!!

Swearing Mother said...

You may well be right Jills! A very unfunny comedy of errors altogether, but it would be really interesting to find out who the real culprits are for this fiasco.

I suppose if a government such as ours likes to micro-manage everything then it signs itself up for criticism and blame for all that goes wrong on it's watch. Comes with the territory. I do think it's important though to actually locate the fools who thought downloading such sensitive information and bunging it in the post was an OK thing to do. They need "retraining" to say the list, preferably in the Tower.

dgibbs said...

That is so unbelievable! Who the hell were they mailing this information too anyway and why could it not be transferred by computer?

Also ye it seems it is always the wrong heads to roll after such a mess.

Swearing Mother said...

Hello Dgibbs, nice to read you again. I too always wonder what good it actually does sacking the head of a department when everyone knows it's not them that a)does the work or b) knows what the hell is going on amongst their wage-slaves. They only get to know about these hideously stupid decisions when the poo hits the rotating blades, by which time it's too late. Unless they weed out the real offenders these same "mistakes" will continue to be made by the "they don't pay me enough to give a damn" brigade, and people who ought to know better. Shame they don't do a unversity degree in the bleeding obvious, funded by the School of Common Sense!