Sunday, 12 April 2009

SHU student makes headlines

Sheffield Hallam journalism student Darryl Curtis made the headlines this week with a story concerning a stolen Blackberry containing the personal details of hundreds of VIPs.
Darryl is in the second year of his journalism degree and is a keen student on my investigation and research skills module which looks at data protection issues.
Two weeks ago he came to see me with Blackberry he had bought from a homeless person in Sheffield City Centre. The person who offered it claimed it held hundreds of phone numbers and personal details of MPs, Cabinet Ministers, senior police officers and civil servants.
Darryl's nose for a good story paid off and we were amazed to discover the device appeared to have no password protection.
Scanning through the Blackberry we could see personal phone numbers of Children's Secretary Ed Balls, Foreign Secretary David Milliband, local Sheffield MPs David Blunkett and Richard Caborne along with several senior police officers including the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, Graham Maxwell. There were also National Insurance numbers, home addresses and in one case computer passwords.
After handing over the phone to South Yorkshire Police we were informed the owner of the Blackberry had been traced. It appears that it belonged to former Sheffield City Council Chief Executive Bob Kerslake, who is now the Government's Housing Czar. His car was broken into two years ago, when he was still working in Sheffield, and a Blackberry was stolen.
This means the unprotected device, with its contents, had been on the streets of Sheffield for up to two years before it fell into Darryl's hands.
Darryl said: "I was shocked by what I found. Nothing was password protected and there was a wealth of information on there."
A spokesman for the the pressure group No2ID, Michael Parker, told The Yorkshire Post: "This isn't just a shocking lapse in security, it shows a complete absence of security...It shows how the civil service still has no idea of the value and importance of the personal information they keep. In this case it is personal details of careeer politicians, but in many other cases it's personal, bank and medical details of British citizens. This just shows why plans for a national database of information is a disaster in the making."
The story made BBC News online on 11 April after it was featured in The Yorkshire Post, Sheffield Star, Daily Mail and Scotsman.
Well done Darryl.

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