New laws governing the protection of private data should be introduced, according to a report by the Justice Select Committee.

The report, compiled with assistance from the Information Commissioner, set out clear recommendations to prevent data losses in the future, including the suggestion that major security breaches should be made criminal offences.

The Committee expressed concern about the increasing number of high-profile breaches, including the loss of millions of personal and financial records by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in November last year.

Previous security breaches could have been prevented if more regulations protecting personal information had been in place, believes Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, chairman of the Committee.

"The scale of the data loss by Government bodies and contractors is truly shocking but the evidence we have had points to further hidden problems. It is frankly incredible, for example, that the measures HMRC has now put in place were not already standard procedure," he said.

Companies would be required to report data losses and the Information Commissioner given new enforcement powers, including the ability to conduct surprise spot checks on Government department's data systems, under Committee recommendations.

The full report is available to download at