40% of the British population is exposed through data leak

Privacy is in short supply. But try not to mail it around, please.

Someone lifts a few disks from the mail and voila! 40% of the population of Great Britain has their personal information laid bare. What information? Detailed information on families that receive government financial benefits for children, including information on nearly every single child under the age of 16.

Forget about privacy online. We seem to have a problem with privacy offline, too:

The British government struggled Wednesday to explain its loss of computer disks containing detailed personal information on 25 million Britons, including an unknown number of bank account identifiers, in what analysts described as potentially the most significant privacy breach of the digital era....

In sheer numbers, the breach was smaller than several in the United States over the last few years. Last year, a computer and detachable hard drive with the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 26.5 million veterans and military personnel was stolen from the home of an analyst, but recovered apparently without any harm. In 2003, a former software engineer at America Online pleaded guilty to stealing and selling 92 million user names and e-mail addresses, setting off an avalanche of up to seven billion unsolicited e-mail messages.

But the disks lost in Britain contained detailed personal information on 40 percent of the population: in addition to the bank account numbers, there were names, addresses and national insurance numbers, the British equivalent of Social Security numbers. They also held data on almost every child under 16.

Wow. That's a heck of a lot of data to lose in the mail. (As Dave Caruana notes, there are easier ways to distribute idiocy than this, too.) Not sure how to improve on it, but surely there must be a better way than sticking data on nearly half of Britain's population on a few disks and sending it via some mail service....

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    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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