Data distribution catastrophe befalls HMRC

The Inland Revenue has been the subject of considerable criticism after it revealed another embarrassing data loss incident, having wrongly posted personal financial information of 50,000 citizens to the wrong addresses.

Information relating to the pay and bank details of other people was distributed to a vast and varied audience in the post, although officials at HMRC claim that it would be unlikely for identity theft to occur as a result of this error.

A resident in an area of Greater Manchester has reported that in an annual statement from HMRC, she not only received information relating to her next door neighbour’s pay, but also details of the bank account into which it is deposited, together with the banking details of a further third party not directly known her.

A similar error occurred three years ago, with 80,000 individuals affected in an almost identical manner. HMRC cited an error with the printing process as the culprit in this previous case, but privacy campaigners are particularly unhappy with the recurrence of such an event and with the apparent lack of accountability of the government officials behind it.

Spokespeople for the TaxPayers’ Alliance and data privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch both condemned this latest data loss incident, saying that a lack of appreciation for the responsibility and security required to properly protect personal data was still endemic in many public and private organisations. Some are also convinced that identity theft and fraud could easily occur as a result of this latest error.

Critics have pointed out that the news of this incident came in tandem with the new coalition government’s plan to scrap the ID Cards scheme which the outgoing Labour government had been planning to implement across the country.

Apologies have been sent out to the 50,000 affected parties in this case and HMRC is maintaining that its own investigation suggests that identity theft is unlikely to affect those whose data has been incorrectly distributed.

This incident shows that such incidents can occur in the largest organisations if proper care and attention is not paid to the proper checks, regulations and practices designed to protect personal information and prevent data loss.

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