British Council loses data disk

By staff

A data disk containing details of 2,000 British Council employees has been lost.

The data included names, national insurance numbers, salary and bank account details of the Council’s UK staff.

The British Council, which promotes British art and culture around the world, has said that the disk is securely encrypted to keep the data secret in case it fell into the wrong hands.

A British Council spokesman said that the disk was lost while being transported from the organisation’s payroll data supplier to its human resources department by courier firm TNT on a routine monthly delivery in December.

“It was sent according to our agreed process with the usual secure TNT courier service but was not received by our human resources team. TNT has informed us that they are still taking steps to find the disk,” said the spokesman.

He added: “The data only included staff records and no information about external British Council contacts is involved.

“The data on the disk was compressed using a proprietary algorithm; furthermore it is not an ordinary CD-ROM or DVD, but an optical disk that can only be read by a particular type of reader with a specific version of specialist software. This software is no longer manufactured and cannot be purchased.

“These precautions ensure that the data is extremely secure in the unlikely event that the disk should fall into the wrong hands. The system for transferring data is being reviewed and in the meantime the data is not being sent.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, who uncovered the incident, said: “Despite the prime minister’s assurances after the last data loss on a memory stick in a pub car park, it is clear that Whitehall’s culture of carelessness about confidential data has not ended.

“This is another warning that ministers cannot be trusted with the information that they seek on all of us as part of the identity card database.

“It is a curious way for the government to celebrate European Data Protection Day on Wednesday.”

This new case of data loss comes a day ahead of the second reading of the coroners and justice bill which gives governmental departments more power to share data.