Police are investigating a possible Home Office security breach after the discovery of an encrypted laptap containing a scrambled disc that is thought to have been bought over the internet.
The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was informed about the laptap, found in a computer shop in Manchester, but Home Office officials denied it was another data blunder by the Government.
"It could have been an ex-employee of the Home Office. The police are checking at the moment," said one official. "It was four or five years old and it was encrypted."
The laptop had been taken into the computer shop in Manchester for repairs. It was then discovered by workers in the shop that both the laptop and a disc were encrypted and had come from the Home Office.
It is believed the laptop was bought by its owner on eBay, the online auction site.
Computer shop owner Lee Bevan said: "This seemed just another IT repair. The customer said he had bought it on eBay and seemed quite innocent."
Mr Bevan added: "It is just an ordinary laptop. It was only when we opened up the keyboard that we discovered the disc – it had the words 'Home Office' and 'Confidential' written on it.
"We put it into the shop safe and contacted the police. They have been here most of the day examining the items."
A Home Office spokesman said of the computer: "It is encrypted. It has been handed to the police. There is no suggestion that it contains anything particularly interesting on it."
The Government has been on the defensive over its handling of data since discs being sent to the Revenue and Customs department in Whitehall went missing in November with 25 million names on them.Reuse content