80 Government laptops missing – how much of our personal information is in the wrong hands?

Today’s Irish Independent covers the revelation (via Ruari Quinn’s Dáil questions) that over 80 government laptops – together with other items such as USB keys and Blackberries – have been lost or stolen over the last five years. It appears from the responses to those questions that the laptops weren’t encrypted, but it’s not fully clear what was on each device. We’ve pointed out before that the State’s security standards for personal data appear to be extremely lax – suggesting that it’s essentially a matter of luck that we haven’t had private files compromised on as large a scale as the recent English loss of data on 25 million individuals. The Data Protection Commissioner is already investigating the lax culture within some Government Departments where snooping or sale of personal information is common – but past experience suggests that real change won’t happen unless there is public pressure for it.

So what can you do to protect the private information the State (Revenue, Social Welfare, HSE, Passport Office, local authority, etc.) hold about you? We’d suggest you start making some noise. Start by complaining to your local TDs – if they use email it will usually have the address: firstname.surname@oireachtas.ie. You can find full contact details for your local TDs here. Let them know that personal privacy is an important issue for you. Ask them why the State has been so careless with our private information that the Data Protection Commissioner has said that he has warned of these risks for years, and has said that the State needs “a wake up call”. Ask them what they plan to do about it. And of course you can ask them why, in light of this carelessness, they should be trusted to bring in data retention.