Prison service fined £180,000 for losing unencrypted hard drive with 3,000 prisoners' details on

Loss came on the heels of a previous lost hard drive

Crime Correspondent

Could there be a safer place to store the most sensitive information? Scrambled behind encryption software, locked up inside an industrial safe so strong it can withstand a blaze, kept inside a locked room, protected by a sophisticated keypad system – and all within a secure prison.

But in the latest remarkable security blunder, it has emerged that jail staff lost a hard drive containing the intelligence logs on nearly 3,000 inmates, with all of its information unprotected because the prison service didn’t realise they had to switch on the encryption system.

The Ministry of Justice was ordered to pay £180,000 after handing out hard drives to all 75 prisons in England and Wales without telling anyone how to make the encryption system work.

None of the information contained on them was protected for more than a year until the blunder came to light after one of the drives went missing from the category C Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire in May last year. It contained details on inmates’ links to organised crime, their drug use and details of their victims – none of it protected, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The drive was removed for updating from a safe which only nine members staff had the security clearance to enter. Staff only noticed that it had not been returned some days later. Despite a search by six people over two days, the drive was not found and remains missing 15 months later.

The new drive had only been given out when security flaws were revealed with the loss of a previous drive in 2011, which contained details on about 16,000 prisoners from High Down prison in Surrey, and which went missing somewhere on the prison estate. The drives were described as holding “everything that the prison service needed to know” about the prisoners.

The Ministry of Justice issued new encrypted drives to all prisons in May 2012 but nobody had told staff at the prisons how to work them. The ICO investigation “found that the prison service didn’t realise that the encryption option on the new hard drives needed to be turned on to work correctly”.

Stephen Eckersley, the head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “The fact that a Government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them, how to use it beggars belief.

“The result was that highly sensitive information about prisoners and vulnerable members of the public, including victims, was insecurely handled for over a year. This failure to provide clear oversight was only addressed when a further serious breach occurred and the devices were finally setup correctly.”

The maximum penalty that can imposed for such a major breach is £500,000, but the ministry was ordered to pay less than half of that because there was no evidence that the details had been spread or used, and a botched attempt had been made to remedy the first failure.

“This is simply not good enough and we expect Government departments to be an example of best practice when it comes to looking after people’s information,” said Mr Eckersley. “We hope this penalty sends a clear message that organisations must not only have the right equipment available to keep people’s information secure, but must understand how to use it.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We take data protection issues very seriously and have made significant and robust improvements to our data security measures. These hard drives have now been replaced with a secure centralised system. Incidents like this are extremely rare and there is no evidence to suggest that any personal data got into the public domain.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most