It must have been quite a scene in Parliament earlier this week when normally stiff-upper-lipped Members gasped as Chancellor Alistair Darling announced that HM Revenue and Customs (basically the British Counterpart to the U.S. Internal Revenue Stealers) had lost the intimate information of all 7.5 million British families with children under 16. Junior officials, acting in violation of security procedures, loaded the information onto two CDs and shipped them to the National Audit Office–where they never arrived.
The hot data include:
National insurance number
Name, address and birth date
Names, sex and age of children
Bank/savings account details
As the British press and blogs are pointing out, the government’s gross incompetency presents a massive identity-theft threat. Let’s hope that’s the worst of it. A database with the name, sex, age, and address of every child in the nation is a dream come true for those with even more nefarious intentions.
What recourse do injured families have? British blog Nation of Shopkeepers warns that it could be nothing. The blog points to a story from last year when a judge ruled that Revenue & Customs is not liable for the serious financial trouble that its 52-day negligent delay caused a British subject. The judge ruled that the tax office has no “duty of care” to the individuals it advises, meaning that no individual can prosecute it for incompetence, the Telegraph reported.
On the other hand, blogger Iain Dale writes that a “legal friend” of his asserts that a lawsuit against HMRC might work. But then, as he points out: “But while the thought of 25 million taxpayers suing the government amuses me, I suppose we’d better remember that they would, in effect, be suing themselves. After all all, it’s the PBT (poor bloody taxpayer) [who’d] end up paying the fine or damages.”
One possible bright side is that this episode is that it may put the kibosh on an idea for National ID cards–touted as the means to better security.
Another bright side is that I’ve discovered the marvelous acronym PBT.