1,000 UK government laptops, flash drives reported missing since 2015

1,000 UK government laptops, flash drives reported missing since 2015
At least 1,000 laptops, computers and USB flash drives belonging to the British government have been reported lost or stolen since the general election in May 2015.

Records released on Wednesday show that at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) alone, equipment went missing on average more than once a day.

Officials said that most of the losses and thefts “occurred in home/office break-ins and whilst traveling” and that all its laptops are encrypted.

The losses across government are thought to be much higher, as a number of departments used legal technicalities to refuse to release the information to the Guardian under freedom of information (FOI) laws.

Most of the departments that did disclose information about missing items refused to say if they contained sensitive or confidential information.

The MoD recorded 759 laptops and computers as being lost and 32 stolen, as well as 328 lost CDs, DVDs and USB drives up to October.

It has launched a probe into the losses, but suggested a suspected accountancy error could lead to a significant reduction in the figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions, which administers a range of benefits for more than 22 million people, reported 42 missing laptops or computers and eight missing USB drives up to August.

The newly created Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy had six laptops lost or stolen since it was set up in July.

Other departments that recorded losses were the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Transport, the Treasury, the Department for International Development, and the Home Office.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Education (DfE), along with the Ministry for Justice, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health, and the Cabinet Office refused to release their records.

Some cited security reasons, while others used legal technicalities to avoid responding to FOIs, according to Maurice Frankel, the director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

Frankel said the DfE’s refusal even to acknowledge it has the information is “complete nonsense.”

“They are stretching credibility to well beyond its snapping point with some of these answers.

“The fact that the Ministry of Defense felt able to answer makes it very implausible that these civilian departments cannot,” Frankel said.

“The fact they are using very similar language in the responses suggests there has been a memo go round telling them to reply in similar terms.”