Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm from The Government and I'm Here to Help

I did feel sorry for the Chancellor, Alistair Darling this morning. I was guilty of giving him a bit of a kicking on Radio 4's 'PM Show' yesterday and having started the ball rolling with 'Catastrophe' at lunchtime, it wasn't long before all the big 'Political guns' waded in with versions of the same in time for the evening news.

How the Chancellor can say that "Banks are monitoring the affected accounts" I don't know. The systems to 'monitor' 7.5 million bank accounts will only look - as far as I am aware - for remarkable activity based on the account history, a bit like a thermostat. So £5,000 suddenly going out would provoke a reaction but £500 might not.

The organised criminal gangs - mainly Russian - that are in this kind of business are far more likely to try and rob a million people of £100 than 100 people of a £million. It's the Nigerian/West African gangs that are more frequently detected because they are often greedier and are more inclined to make silly mistakes.

Anyway, the good news is that the discs remain lost but their intrisic value on one of the many thriving criminal equivalents of eBay - they do exist see photo of the Shadowcrew site - courtesy of the FBI - is enormous.

Outside of the loss of the information, the critical question that needs answering is why on several occasions, every data protection rule in the book was broken by the Revenue's staff. HM Revenue & Customs have a fundamental duty of care to the citizen, as does the medical profession and for them to ignore such fundamental safeguards is both shocking and alarming and begs the question as to whether we should trust the agency with anything a basic as our tax calculations? The recent fiasco concerning family tax credits which has caused such hardship in Thanet, suggests not!


Michael Child said...

One thing I don’t understand here is have they lost the information completely or have they lost copies of information that they already have stored elsewhere.

And one observation if all the information about everyone in the UK receiving child benefit will go on to a couple of disks, it will also go onto a tiny memory stick so presumably you only have to have one corrupt tax officer, bank clerk, policeman etc. and no information stored digitally is safe.

Suppose a criminal uses ones personal information to commit a crime, say uses ones credit card information on an illegal website, how would one be able to defend ones innocence.

Mr Friday said...

They will have lost a copy of the original data.

Common practice across Government Depts is to "data-match" each others data to try and discover fraud and error in the system. Problem is that their computer systems are often incapable of doing this remotely or automatically so they transport data to the Audit Office or each other to match it that way - hence the loss in transit.

Luckily we have had no other cases of this magnitude before but it would make your hair curl if you knew how much personal data was routinely transported around the country on cd's and the like by courier. This is a fraction of it.

Michael Child said...

Mr Friday in back 1969 you could point an electronic measuring device that recorded vibration at someone or the window of the room they were in, a considerable distance away allowing you to hear what they were saying, technology having moved on nearly 40 years I imagine that nothing is really secret.

We are now all using technology that we don’t really understand, nothing once entered into a computer or any other electronic device can be guaranteed as confidential, I don’t think anyone has any real answer to this problem.

I think that the biggest loophole at the moment is that when I pay by card online no password is required. This means that if you know someone’s credit card details you can use them, people hand me theirs all day.

I used to use the posting a disk method but now transfer files that are too big to email like whole books or video footage by sending them to my website by ftp and then accessing them where I want them. I doubt it is much more secure however it is probably impossible for one human being to transfer information to another in guaranteed total confidence, something that means that the media can decide who hs to step out of office.

Anonymous said...

25 million votes lost!!!!!

Anonymous said...

criminals may be able to find out the bank details of 25 million family allowance recipients ... but bet they can't find out from TDC members interests which councillors are Freemasons ?

(The sort of information which should be on web.)

Anonymous said...

Simon (helpful comment from Irritating Bloke)

There is a website called entitledto.

This calculates tax credit. Best way to go is to write a letter to Tax Credit including the calculation and generally that is what they then pay out ....

(In not so distant history I had to write to explain to Ramsgate Jobcentre Staff that to derive a weekly income from a calendar monthly figure you do not divide by four .. you multiply by twelve and divide by fifty two)

The entitledto site seems to miss that with a disability a person can claim tax credit on 16 hours a week work (not thirty) ... and seems to fail to advise about the 9 month waiting time for means tested benefits to help with mortgage interest payments.

I recently took a squint at some local people (not Thanet)

One lives separately (on paper) from her partner. The partner from his address claims incapacity, carers and higher rate mobility DLA, housing benefits and council tax benefits.

She works thirty hours and claims tax credit and child care.

This nets the couple about 600 pounds per week net with the possibility they are sub letting the second house to a working family who won't cross refer on housing benefits claims.

Only fools and horses Cllr ....

Anonymous said...

Michael ... you might enjoy this story (given your comment about 1969 eavesdropping)

In the early 1990s I learnt that electrical contractors would be digging up the road outside the top secret torpedo factory at Spytty Road Newport Gwent.

At that time they were advertising for test techs "To be trained to company standards"

An anon letter was sent to Brian G..... the Plessey security manager telling him the advert was cheeky as he could not teach a duck to fart in a pond.

The letter warned him that the earth path on the banks of the Usk was notoriously difficult and that it could be used as a defacto carbon pile microphone to eavesdrop the factory by putting a currnet through the earth and modulating it with sound vibrations within the factory. Beware of this technique espoecially if contractors with a little tent appear working near the main factory entrance.

Apparently they swallowed it hook line and sinker and forbade strategic discussions for the length of time the road was dug up .....

Anonymous said...

Simon note

93% of managers in UK electrical engineering totally unqualified.

Laugh or what

Anonymous said...


I should add that when you phone the Tax Credit helpline you are NOT talking to the people who assess the claims. And they in turn do not get to speak with the claim assessment section. They email the assessors.

It may be better, in difficult cases, to write (as I said above) to the assessment address ... they are apparently obliged to action the correspondence by issuing a decision witrhin four weeks.

When Jonathan Aitken was described as having popular support in Thanet this may be because he was wont to fill in peoples DHSS claim forms for them. Dr Ladyman takes the view that if he is asked to do something for which he could not raise a question in the commons then he wont do it.

Aitken wasn't all bad. (He held a separate surgery for striking miners in 84 and his constituency office rejected offers of a guard from Kent police ... ie rejecting the Kent police nonsense that miners were dangerous members of society.

If you help people nopw with tax credit correspondence .. given nine out of ten working families are on it ... next thing you might be a popular constituency MP.

(Unlike Dr Ladyman who is a constituency MP)

Mr Friday said...

I receive a rather pathetically small amount of tax credits, so small in fact that I wrote to the HMRC and asked them to cancel my claim as I couldn't be bothered to complete the forms every year for that amount of money.

Their reply amazed me. They wrote and told me that I wasn't allowed to cancel my own claim and that I had to carry on receiving it until THEY told me I wasn't entitled to it. They even quoted case-law to back this up (??)

I duly wrote to Ladyman pointing out this flagrant waste of taxpayers money (and rather sinister undertone of the State being in control) and mentioned that, with the spiralling cost of the welfare state, surely someone who actually wanted their claim stopped had the right to do so ? Ladyman replied after a few weeks enclosing another copy from some senior manager from HMRC confirming, once again, that I am not allowed to cancel my claim and must carry on receiving the money. Notably, Ladyman made no comment himself on the rather perverse nature of how HMRC carry out their business.

Honestly. You couldn't make it up.

PS - Probably slipped under the radar locally but if you check out the Information Commissioner's website you will see a very recent press release pointing out a breach of Data Protection from the Foreign Office in publishing loads of personal details on their website in error.

Any more coming out of the woodwork ??

Chris Roos said...

I was about to suggest that their IT department may be at fault, either by charging too much for the work or refusing to do it in reasonable timescales. Having just checked the latest article at the BBC, it seems that this is exactly what they are blaming it on, ".. the data would not be "desensitised" in the way that had been requested as it would require an extra payment to data services provider."

A friend weighs in with a similar opinion.

Anonymous said...

One can imagine the modern equivalent of '"Hey , mister, want to see some dirty postcards?" ; "Hey mister, want some hot CDs?".