Contractor loses memory stick with Government Gateway

Another Government contractor lost track of equipment containing citizens' personal data, newspaper reports have revealed.

The equipment has been recovered but its loss caused the Government to temporarily shut down the main site through which people access Government services, the Mail on Sunday reported. The Government has since confirmed the story.

The Government Gateway site is used by people for their tax, benefits and other Government services. It is managed by Atos Origin. An Atos Origin staff member lost a USB memory stick containing user names and passwords for the Gateway site.

The stick was eventually found in the car park of a pub near Atos Origin's offices, but ministers ordered the Gateway site to be taken offline when the loss was reported.

"The company takes the loss of this device very seriously and we are currently carrying out a full investigation of both the circumstances surrounding its loss and the data content of the stick," a statement by Atos Origin said.

The company said that the individual employee's removal of the memory stick was in "direct breach" of its rules.

The memory stick contained the passwords of a small number of Gateway users as well as users' personal data, which was encrypted.

Before the memory stick was recovered and the fact that data on it was encrypted was discovered, access to the Gateway site was halted.

Atos Origin is not the only firm to lose citizens' data while working on a Government contract. In August PA Consulting lost a memory stick containing personal data on every one of the 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales. The company's £1.5 million contract was terminated by the Government.

Privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said that the Commissioner was waiting to see what action the Government proposed taking over the loss.

"The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, was notified of this incident on Saturday by the Government," said an ICO statement. "He is now awaiting the results of ongoing investigations to establish the facts and the nature and extent of any risk to individuals. The Information Commissioner expects the Government to take appropriate damage limitation steps as its first priority."