Hundreds of government desktop and laptop computers have been stolen in recent years, ministers have been forced to admit.
Concern over missing computer equipment has focused on discs in the wake of HM Revenue and Customs loss of 25 million people’s details, held on two unencrypted CDs that were lost in transit to the National Audit Office.
But parliamentary records show that laptops and sometimes even desktop PCs have been going missing from central government departments for years.
The latest figures, revealed by justice minister David Hanson, show that a desktop computer and 26 laptops with a total replacement value of £50,000 were stolen from the department’s offices in 2007. Hanson said there had been “no reported security breaches”.
HMRC has also lost a substantial number of computers. Last month, the agency admitted that taxpayer data was held on a laptop stolen from an employee’s car.
But HMRC has in fact lost dozens of other laptops. In answer to parliamentary questions, Treasury minister Jane Kennedy was forced to admit that 41 laptops had been stolen between October 2006 and September 2007, 16 of them during a break-in at one of HMRC's offices.
Kennedy refused to say what information was held on the missing machines. “I cannot comment on staff disciplinary matters or disclose information relating to the data held on stolen laptops,” she said.
Earlier parliamentary records reveal that a steady stream of stolen equipment has been removed from a number government departments over the past few years. In April, the Home Office admitted that 17 laptops, a PDA and a Blackberry had been reported stolen in 2006, with another three computers stolen in the first four months of 2007.
And at the Ministry of Defence, 66 laptops and two desktop PCs were stolen in 2006, with another 458 machines stolen over the years between 1998 and 2005. A total of 173 laptop machines and two desktop machines were pinched from the MoD in 2004 alone.