Cared-for children's privacy put at risk by taxmen

30th May 2008 at 01:00
The security of confidential personal information on children in care has been compromised in another data scandal involving HM Revenue and Customs, The TES has learned

The security of confidential personal information on children in care has been compromised in another data scandal involving HM Revenue and Customs, The TES has learned.

Leaked documents show that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has been forced to intervene over fears concerning the safety of information requested about looked-after children.

As part of its role in administering child trust funds, Revenue and Customs asked local councils to send full lists of children taken into their care, including the names and addresses of their birth and foster parents.

Local officials were shocked to discover that they were being asked to send the details by fax rather than electronically, as the regulations specify. They were concerned that sensitive details about vulnerable children could easily fall into the wrong hands.

In November, ministers had to announce an independent inquiry after it emerged that Revenue and Customs had lost two computer discs containing the details of 25 million people after they were sent to the National Audit Office unregistered and unencrypted.

This week, a local authority official told The TES: "I find it amazing that HMRC is asking for data by fax, given everything that has happened since last autumn.

"Faxes are still notoriously easy to intercept, and if this information is left on a machine, anybody could pick it up."

The matter was raised at a meeting of the "Star Chamber" DCSF external scrutiny group. Following representations from local authority officials, a civil servant said he would write to Revenue and Customs about the security concerns.

A DCSF spokesman said: "Security is of paramount importance to the department. We will be working with HM Revenue and Customs to make sure their processes for transmitting data from local authorities are suitably robust."

An HM Revenue and Customs spokeswoman said: "We have been investigating possible improvements to the process and are initiating a pilot scheme, providing an electronic link for the submission of this information. Data security is of the utmost importance to HMRC."

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