Most departments wipe devices after failed password attempts

Written by Jim Dunton on 7 January 2022 in News
News

FOI responses find that two thirds of government entities reset phones – a practice firmly discouraged by MPs

Credit: Dunk/CC BY 2.0 and Sittikan Raingkun  - image has been remixed

Most central government departments wipe officials’ mobile phones if the wrong password is entered too many times, according to responses to Freedom of Information Act research.

Answers given to the Press Association suggested that at least 14 out of 21 departments routinely delete phone records from devices when enough failed attempts to provide a password are racked up.

The practice came under the spotlight during parliamentary probes into the Greensill scandal last year, when it emerged that HM Treasury did not have complete records of permanent secretary Sir Tom Scholar’s phone and text communications with former prime minister David Cameron.

Cameron subsequently provided the department with data from his own records because the details had been wiped from Scholar’s phone after failed password attempts for the device.


Related content


According to the PA research, reported by the Independent among other media outlets, four departments do not have a policy of clearing records from phones when the incorrect password is entered too many times. A fifth – unnamed – department said it did not hold information to answer the FOI request, while the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office did not reveal their policies.

Campaigning lawyer Jo Maugham, founder of the Good Law Project, said the FOI investigation showed departments’ security arrangements made it too easy for phone records to be purposefully destroyed.

“It’s entirely wrong for ministers and special advisers to be given de facto the option of deleting, when convenient, all records held on their phones,” he said. “Departments have been told this is wrong by the Treasury Select Committee – and you do have to wonder why so many persist.”

Last month the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport revealed that 57 of its mobile phones and more than 260 of its laptops had been lost or stolen since 2018.

In a written answer to parliament, minister of state Julia Lopez said that any mobile device reported as lost was “immediately and remotely deactivated and the contents deleted”. 

She did not detail the department’s policy on wrongly entered passwords.

 

Share this page

Tags

Categories

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Russia: sanctions tightened on exports of monitoring and military tech
24 June 2022

New measures prohibit supply of any tech used for ‘internal repression’

‘Treated as suspects’ – ICO calls for end to excessive demands for personal data of rape victims
31 May 2022

Information commissioner tells forces to immediately stop gathering info in a manner he claims is putting a major dent in conviction rates

EXCL: Wall of silence surrounds plan for nationwide collection of citizens’ internet records
26 May 2022

Online notice reveals controversial trials are to be expanded into a national service – about which government, law enforcement, watchdogs and all the UK’s major ISPs declined to answer questions...

Government to offer schools cyber response and insurance services
21 June 2022

From next school year, organisations will be able to benefit from monitoring and help with costs