Witness Protection

The farce continues!

Hundreds of people in police witness protection programmes have been put at risk by the loss of millions of child benefit records, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

The missing data discs are understood to contain both the real names and the new identities of up to 350 people who have had their identities changed after giving evidence against major criminals.

You know the problem with this? It\’s not that the discs have been lost: it\’s that this information is in the database at all. Given that we have a large number of junior civil servants who have access to the information, given the hunger of certain criminals to find out who had fingered them (or rather, find out where those who fingered them are) it\’s simply insane that this information should be so easily available.

Old name, new name, current address, available to anyone with access to the system? And please note that positive vetting is "not" carried out on junior civil servants. You could make a case that the only reason such witnesses are not already being beaten up (pour encourager les autres) is that not even the criminal fraternity believe that the Govt would be so stupid. It really wouldn\’t be all that difficult for one of the crime families to get someone to apply for employment on that computer system now, would it? That data would easily be worth a 4 or 6 month period working as a junior civil servant.

And note, this isn\’t a "mistake", this is a basic design flaw.

14 thoughts on “Witness Protection”

  1. Are there any people out there who still think a Citizen Basic Income/ ID Card scheme could be managed competently by the state?

  2. “Are there any people out there who still think a Citizen Basic Income/ ID Card scheme could be managed competently by the state?”

    I expect there are lots of people. You see, the problem was that not enough money was being spent on civil servants, and morale was low. There’s no limit to the problems that can be solved by spending more money.

  3. @ Kit 1057hrs – ‘Are there any people out there who still think a Citizen Basic Income/ ID Card scheme could be managed competently by the state?’

    Yes. There seems to be millions who were in car crashes when babies

  4. Could the state run a CBI competently? No. The state can do nothing competently.

    However given the simplicity of the scheme the scope for incompetence (and damage from it) is lower than under the current system of dozens of different schemes all of which have highly complex means tested qualification criteria. Its not that CBI is good, its just the least worst practical option.

  5. Sadly, chris, the “simplicity” of CBI would not last. Before I could say, “I told you so”, the politicians will have created exceptions/conditions to please special interest groups or targeting floating voters. The only way reduce the states ability to balls things up is to give it less money.

  6. Kit, Kay Tie, the fact that this particular government couldn’t run a bath is not an argument against the CBI in particular.

    You could use the same argument to say that all bank accounts should be anonymous, there should be no taxes or old age pensions, all shares should be bearer shares and the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths and HM Land Registry should be shut down (we can go back to title deeds).

    If people don’t want the CBI (preferring, for example, to trade it in against a higher personal allowance) then fine, they don’t need to claim it.

    And of course the CBI would not last long before people started tinkering with it. But it would be nice to start off with a clean sheet every now and then.

  7. Its a common flaw in security systems.
    People assume the end points are secure and worry about transit (although in this case they didn’t even worry about that).

    Very few people get this right, including private businesses. The difference is the information here is probably far more valuable to someone than most records private companies keep.

  8. “Kit, Kay Tie, the fact that this particular government couldn’t run a bath is not an argument against the CBI in particular.”

    I’m not arguing against it. I’m very much in favour of the idea. It would be straightforward to produce super secure CBI administering system. You could use biometric checks to eliminate duplicates in the vast majority of cases. In the case of a few errors, the benefit of the doubt would go to the citizen (wholly unlike the ID card or DNA database, where guilt is deemed upon a match and the suspect has to prove innocence). A very very few lucky thieves could get a double CBI. But it doesn’t have to be perfect to beat the fraud levels of today’s benefits system.

  9. The Gunn family crime firm had bent police trawling the national police computers and bent BT guys trawling the customer databases.


    (But I doubt very much that the people doing the HMRC databases were the kind of ‘junior’ with six months experience. Junior ranked IT staff can often be gnarled contract veterans, especially in these outsourced days. Didn’t Cap Gemini do HMRC? A bottom-of-the-heap ‘grunt’ contractor on a project might have 20 years experience and earn 70K .)

    Here we go – Directgov website :

    7th November 2007

    HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have agreed a restructuring of their IT outsourcing contract in response to HMRC’s aim to significantly reduce IT running costs by 2011.

    Deepak Singh HMRC Chief Information Officer said:

    “I am delighted that we have been able to secure such a positive outcome that further strengthens our commitment to working with Aspire over the coming years.

    The IT outsourcing relationship between HMRC and Aspire has gone from strength to strength over the past three years as we have seen significant improvements in service quality and delivery capability. The restructuring of the Aspire contract balances the need for HMRC to meet its commitments to cost reductions under the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review without compromising our joint drive to become a world class IT function”.

    The contract is being extended by a further three years to 2017.

    Notes for editors

    Aspire is HMRC’s contract with Capgemini and a number of other ‘ecosystem’ suppliers for the provision of IT services.

    * The contract was originally signed in 2003/2004 and replaced the contracts IR had with EDS and Accenture for IT services and National Insurance Recording System (NIRS2) respectively. Following the merger of Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise in 2005, the latter’s IT services contract with Fujitsu was incorporated within Aspire in April 2006.

    * The existing contract term was for 10 years and due to end in June 2014. The contract has been extended by three years to June 2017.

    * The commitment from HMRC is to cut our IT running costs by circa 10% by 2010/11.

    * The original contract allows for up to an 8 year extension.

  10. Hang on.

    It’s December. Those discs went astray on 18th October. So these vulnerable folk have been at risk for 6 weeks and are only just finding out?

    That’s dire.

    And why do the Child Benefit office need to know this information anyway? All they need to know is who the parent is and the Id and DOB of the kids. And they don’t even check if that data is coherent. One woman claimed, and got, CB for a new baby every four months, and no-one noticed her claims were medically impossible.

    Of course, no-one will ever trust a witness protection program again.

    How bad does this have to get before triggering a vote of no confidence in the govmint?

  11. Mark W,
    “But it would be nice to start off with a clean sheet every now and then.”
    But this clean sheet is awfully expensive and as you say the politicians will start to tinker and tinkering costs money.
    What ever happen to small government and low taxes?

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