PA red-faced after latest data fiasco

The government doesn't need any help to lose confidential data, but one consultancy has provided it anyway...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

PA Consulting, one of the Government’s favourite advisers on big public sector IT projects – including the national ID card scheme – was named today as the firm responsible for losing a memory stick containing details of every single prisoner in England and Wales. The fiasco will obviously be horribly damaging for the Government, after the recent string of embarrassing data losses, but it’s not going to do PA’s reputation an awful lot of good either…

The Home Office confirmed this morning that PA had managed to lose the unencrypted memory stick, which contains the name and date of birth of all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales, address details of 33,000 repeat offenders, and dossiers on 10,000 ‘prolific and priority offenders’. Apparently it went missing after information stored securely on site was downloaded for ‘processing’, supposedly as part of a project on how criminals move through the justice system. The breach is considered so serious that Scotland Yard have been called in to give PA a good hiding.

The Government’s credibility will of course be the biggest casualty: this is just the latest in a string of cock-ups. And it’s not as if it wasn’t warned: a Parliamentary Select Committee said earlier this year that Whitehall’s cavalier attitude made further data losses inevitable. Not exactly a compelling argument for introducing the ID card scheme, or extending the DNA database… And as the gleeful Tories have been quick to point out, this could get even more embarrassing if our threadbare public purse has to shell out big compensation fees to convicted criminals for breach of privacy and data protection.

All of which is grim news for PA. The consultancy has benefited hugely from government fees in recent years – not only could this help to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but it will also undermine its credibility for IT advisory work. In some ways we’re sympathetic – after all, it’s not exactly difficult to mislay these tiny memory sticks. But then ours don’t contain highly sensitive and confidential personal information (well, apart from our own, perhaps).

Earlier this year PA won the top prize for ‘Operational Performance at the MCA awards, following its work on a public sector procurement scheme – its chances of winning any similar awards for its work on the ID card scheme are getting thinner by the minute...

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