Public Accounts Committee to scrutinise government data protection

The Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into the government protection of information off the back of a damning report from the National Audit Office.

The Public Accounts Committee is to investigate data protection – Photo credit: PA

The NAO report, published last month, said that the government was failing to properly address data protection, with almost 9,000 breaches recorded in 2014-15.

The report made particular mention of the Cabinet Office’s role in data protection, saying that it had “not yet established a clear role for itself in coordinating and leading departments’ efforts to protect their information”.

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It added that the Cabinet Office needed to make it much easier for departments to carry out the “critical” task of protecting their information from unauthorised access or loss.

Announcing its inquiry, the PAC – which scrutinises the value for money of government spending rather than the merit of government policies – noted that protecting information while re-designing public services and introducing the technology needed to support it “is an increasingly complex challenge”.


It said that the NAO report had found the Cabinet Office’s ambition to coordinate the approach “is weakened by the limited information which departments collect on their security costs, performance and risks” but that the UK had a strong reputation in some areas of digital government and information security.

“Protecting the information departments hold from unauthorised access or loss is a critical responsibility for departmental accounting officers,” the PAC’s inquiry page said. “Departments are, however, increasingly required to balance this responsibility with the need to make this information available to other public bodies, delivery partners, service users and citizens via new digital services.

“And increasing dependencies between central government and the wider public sector mean that the traditional security boundaries have become blurred.”

The MPs said that they will hold an inquiry session on 14 November, and are accepting written submissions until 8 November.

The PAC has also announced an inquiry into the Emergency Services Network – which was also the subject of a National Audit Office report, which highlighted a number of risks with the replacement of the emergency services’ communication system Airwave.

In detailing the scope of this inquiry, the PAC said that the ESN was” inherently high risk” and that international comparison work carried out by the NAO had concluded that the proposed ESN solution “is the most advanced in the world, with only one other country—South Korea—seeking to deploy a similar solution”.

The deadline for written submissions for the ESN inquiry is also 8 November, with the session planned for 16 November.


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