The Cabinet Office, responsible for disseminating good practice in data security throughout central government, says that it has never been independently audited for compliance with data protection principles in documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request, and seen by SC magazine.
The revelation comes as the government faces increasing pressure to restore public trust in the data security of central government by allowing independent scrutiny of its practices.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) may be granted new powers following a public consultation which closed at the end of August. However, the main focus of the consultation by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is on intervention by ICO after a problem has come to light, rather than auditing day-to-day practices.
Under the proposals ICO could have the ability to launch “dawn raids” on government departments, entering a data controller's premises under a court warrant and compelling any person on the premises to provide information about the data protection practices of the organisation.
The consultation was designed to restore confidence in central government after HMRC lost two disks containing the personal details of millions of citizens in October 2007.
Despite huge publicity and investigations by the Treasury, Cabinet Office, and Independent Police Complaints Commission, HMRC has yet to put its house in order, Financial Secretary Jane Kennedy MP revealed in July 2008.
From October 2007 to June 2008, almost 2,000 breaches of security were reported, covering a wide range of circumstances, she said. The breaches were not actual thefts or losses and the high level of reporting reflects the increased awareness of staff, Kennedy said in a Commons statement.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has itself recently come under the spotlight. Its annual report for the period 2007-2008 shows a breach occurred potentially affecting 27,000 confidential records held by an MoJ contractor.