September 10, 2008

Scandal of Our Missing Data

News of a second incident of confidential data held on a computer memory stick being lost in just two days raises worrying questions. And the first must be what on earth are people responsible for such sensitive information as military movements and special needs children doing carrying it around in such an easy-to-lose format?

Computers and their ability to compress vast amounts of information into tiny storage chips have transformed our lives, mostly for the better. But at least bulky filing cabinets full of ring-binders stuffed with sheets of A4 are difficult to mislay. Memory sticks smaller than a cigarette lighter, on the other hand...

So question one that the authorities must put to the two individuals who appear to have lost the private details of children with particular special needs and the itinerary of a group of servicemen about to go on manoeuvres is, "Why did you take the information out with you?"

The children's data was found in a petrol station in Somerset; the Army exercise information in a nightclub in Newquay. Neither are places where the information needed to be taken. In both cases, losing this information has security implications, both for the individuals concerned and, in the case of the Army movements, potentially for our nation's defence as well.

Information technology is probably the fastest growth industry of the past two decades. Laws have been passed to help control the use and storage of such information, but they have often lagged behind the developing technology and, crucially, the rules are sometimes poorly adhered to and poorly enforced.

The blame for these two serious breaches of IT security may lie with the individuals concerned, or the blame may lie elsewhere. But it is the organisations which own the information which must urgently review their procedures and take steps to make sure no repeats occur.

In both cases, the information appears to have got back into the right hands relatively quickly with no harm being done. But for every case we hear about like this, how many more occur where the finders of this information attempt to make more sinister use of their discovery?

The answer is we don't know. And with thousands of memory sticks, computer disks and other storage devices - including lost or abandoned laptop computers - in circulation, the potential for serious consequences as a result of data falling into the wrong hands is immense.

We need reassurance, from the very top, that personal information held about all of us and sensitive data affecting our national security is not being compromised. As things stand, it is pretty clear no-one in a position of authority can give that reassurance. Individuals need to take full responsibility for data in their control - but their organisations must put the rules in place to minimise the chances of it going missing.

A good catch

THE Western Morning News has campaigned against supermarkets where we have felt they worked against the interests of Westcountry farmers, fishermen and food producers. But we have always accepted that to be truly successful, our Buy Local campaign needed to embrace supermarket shopping because - for good or ill - that's how most people get their food.

So we welcome the news today that Tesco is dramatically increasing the amount of locally caught fish available in its stores, including lemon sole, Cornish mackerel and sardines, ray wing, megrim, scallops and even squid.

This is all top-quality fish that has been exported from our shores for many years to feed appetites in France, Spain and other parts of Europe. If more of it can now be sold here in the UK, in the kinds of volumes Tesco deal in, then customers, fishermen and the environment will all benefit.

There is some way to go before our supermarkets are stocking a truly representative range of local produce, whether from fishermen, farmers or other food producers. But every small step like this marks progress and should be welcomed. Local fishmongers, who have stayed true to Westcountry fish through thick and thin, are deserving of even greater levels of support from Westcountry consumers who back local businesses. They are the real food heroes of the Westcountry. But Tesco's initiative is welcome.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.