Government minister dumps documents in park bins

Filed Under: Featured, Privacy

Litter binCabinet minister Oliver Letwin has got himself into hot water, after a British newspaper exposed he was in the habit of dumping private correspondence and sensitive documents detailing Al-Qaeda activities and secret service operations into park bins near Downing Street.

The Daily Mirror reported that some of the documents dumped by Letwin in St James's Park, Westminster, close to Downing Street, contained the personal details of the minister's constituents, including names, phone numbers, email contacts and postal addresses.

One discarded file was reported to carry the advisory:

"UK Parliament Disclaimer: This email is confidential to the intended recipient. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete it from your system."

One of the discarded documents is said to have described how Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – which examines the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – "failed to get the truth" on Britain’s involvement in extraordinary rendition. Other documents related to Al-Qaeda's links with Pakistan, Burmese human rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, and Libya and Afghanistan.

Letwin, who is in charge of developing government policies, has acknowledged that he sometimes disposed of copies of letters in the park but denied that they were "sensitive".

So, here's my advice to Mr Letwin in the form of an open letter.

Dear Mr Letwin,

I'd like you to introduce you to the concept of a paper shredder.

Oliver Letwin and shredded documents

My guess would be that they have some pretty good paper shredders at Downing Street, and indeed in your own office.

It would be sensible to use them - as next time it may not be the tabloid press who are picking up your rubbish after you.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Cluley,
Naked Security chap

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10 Responses to Government minister dumps documents in park bins

  1. upholder · 1106 days ago

    As I recall when the Americans left Iran some years ago they shredded quite a pile of secret documents in the courtyard of the embassy, when the revolutionary guard moved in they made carpet weavers put them all back together, sad times for anyone who worked with the Americans. I think it helps to burn the shredded bits just to be on the safe side.

    • Wile E Coyote · 1106 days ago

      It was the use of strip shredders and their insecure disposal from the American Embassy in Beijing that you are thinking of. The Chinese re-assembled the strips into the originals. Cross-cut shredding, followed by burning in now the accepted norm.

      As for the Americans in Iran: they left in rather different circumstances - look up American hostages in Tehran, Jimmy Carter, and Operation Eagle Claw to get a taste of what happened.

  2. Dieter Kristiansen · 1106 days ago

    Or even better send then to Wikileaks, they would be happy to receive them directly. It only proved that also ministers are just dumb people. ;-)))

  3. DeviantKiller · 1106 days ago

    Oh god. Good old England.

  4. Wile E Coyote · 1106 days ago

    These were not classified documents: had they been it would be a very different matter.

    Letwin was sloppy in the extreme in the way he disposed of his business documents, but there has been no breach in security as inferred by certain media outlets.

    The real question is how to marry Government document protective marking and control procedures with protection of potentially sensitive personal information of MP's constituents.

    One must protect and secure private communications, but in a less dogmatic manner than for classified documents. The ICO has a role to play in that, but I don't think they have it anywhere near correct right now - The Data Protection Act has eight very good principles, but the definitions behind them are wishy-washy at one end and overbearing at the other extreme.

    Letwin aside, we need joined up thinking across all government business documents and communications, and for every member of government, politician, civil and crown servant to adhere to and follow procedures.

  5. WohoooFriday · 1106 days ago

    Lead by example…….. It’s about time the government started practicing what they preach. A few MP’s in jail for failing to protect information will ensure government departments start to follow the rules.

  6. M Fielding · 1104 days ago

    I read your article with great interest, with also a degree of disgust and a large sigh. If Mr Lewtin truly cared and gave a dam about his fellow colleagues and role within the UK government, those documents would be at the bottom of a shredder box, or better a incinerator unit.

    Even better recycled in a green but secure fashion!

    If he can do this on a regular basis, with peoples names and email address's what else does he do that potentially pose's as a national security threat to the UK?

    Peoples day to day trends and mindsets normally have a similar attitude the rest of there actions.

    Time to put into place some evaluation methods and asses these MP's attitude to Risk and Security.

  7. Concerned Citizen · 1103 days ago

    So nobody has picked up on the fact that these could be dead drops, where the minister in question intended for the documents to be found?

    I find it hard to believe that he would use public dustbins for such rubbish, given presumably the fact that the ministry would have both secure disposal of documents as well as trash cans in the building.

    It seems far more likely that this is where muckraking journalists would get their "a source inside the Ministry claimed..." documents from. Then again, would the news media really report that this is where they get their material?

    Seems more like leaks and espionage afoot rather than poor security.

  8. Jon Fukumoto · 1103 days ago

    Shred ALL SENSITIVE documents before throwing them away. Use a cross shredder which will effectively destroy the document and prevent anyone from being able to extract any information from it. There are some people out there who looks into people's trash and see what kind of information they can steal. As much as possilbe, avoid throwing away any sensitive documents in your regular trash. This will save you a whole lot of grief.

  9. Rick Cunningham · 1103 days ago

    I'm sure he was performing all his other government duties on a more professional level. After all he is a cabinet minister.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.