This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but all the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't pay my salary.


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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Data Protection My Arse

There has been a glut of data loss scandals recently. In fact, there have been so many since the original HM Customs & Revenue fiasco that I'm getting a bit fed up of reading about them. Which is probably why they are all coming forwards (in the hope their embarrassment will be allayed by public boredom in the subject).

A common thread seems to be that a huge amount of agencies are just chucking data on discs and throwing it into an internal mail system that seems highly inadequate. I thought it might interest my readers to hear about some of the strict information-handling rules that govern the police's work, to make sure this sort of tomfoolery doesn't happen in Blandmore.

One of the main systems in place is Protective Marking. The thinking behind it is that if a word is stamped on each sensitive document in big red letters, it will not fall into the wrong hands. The markings available are:
  • Restricted.
  • Confidential.
  • Secret.
  • Top Secret.
With each marking comes a set of rules about how the document should be handled. These go along the lines of:
  • Restricted documents should be sealed in an envelope within another envelope and kept in a secure building.
  • Confidential documents should be sealed in an envelope which is sealed within a third envelope, and kept in a locked room within a secure building.
  • I don't know what happens to Secret and Top Secret documents, but I imagine one of the rules is that PC Bloggs isn't allowed to know what happens to them.
Here is how most police officers comply with the rules of Protective Marking:
  • Restricted documents: often contain information about defendants, court cases, etc. It's not life-threatening if people read this stuff, but it is private. The papers are therefore carefully tied together with a treasury tag in no kind of envelope whatsoever and sent loose to the file unit, which is an unlocked portakabin. Alternatively, they are left on the dashboards of panda cars where the public can wander past and read them, or on the roof of the panda so they float off down the road to be handed in later at the front counter.
  • Confidential documents: contain information about people's criminal convictions and bad character, home addresses, dates of birth, vehicles driven, crimes they have reported and their physical description. They are therefore handled in a far stricter manner, and indeed are usually bundled together with the Restricted papers and treated in exactly the same way.
  • Secret/Top Secret documents: this is serious stuff relating to covert operations, terrorist suspects, police informants etc. If it falls into the wrong hands, someone could die or a war could start. I have no idea how these documents are handled, but if anyone knows a Secret Service agent they could ask please get back to me. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the answer is similar.
In the unlikely event that one of these files makes its way into the internal mail system without passing an unlocked door, panda car or fax machine, the chances are it will be shoved in a communal in-tray where anyone may leaf through it. Most of our internal mail goes via two or three stations before it gets where it's going, too, and it's not uncommon for post to go completely missing and be found months later in the desk of someone who never had anything to do with the case.

I'm not suggesting any kind of scandal. Most of these documents are useless and boring to anyone who finds them. It would also be extremely inconvenient and stupid to handle it in the way the scheme suggests - court file envelopes would have to be opened, re-opened and opened again before they reached their final destination, and would therefore require about fifteen envelopes each.

In case you're wondering, we're not given training in how to handle these documents (I looked it up on the Internet). But it doesn't matter, because we have the utmost faith in our internal mail system, which is perfect.


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11 Comments:

Anonymous notellin said...

I believe we have two types of internal post that operate quite differently, i.e. one works and one doesn't.

Needless to say that the one that works is ONLY for civvies at HQ who do like their arses covered and NOT for the use of Police even if they handle evidence. I have only heard of this service never seen it. Of course senior types at HQ use it for sending Christmas Cards but that's the privilege of rank for you. I understand that this service was set up in parallel to the other service as sufficient arse covering was not provided, it has a n audit trail and everything.

The one that doesn't work is the one the Sworn Officers get to use. It works on a principle of chaos theory. In that any piece of mail in the system for long enough will eventually reach a useful destination. The average number of deliveries and subsequent reposting s is normally in double figures. However it doesn't actually loose anything and those items that appear to be lost are just stuck in the infinite circulation loop which has the same effect as being lost but not the same label.

There is a rumoured 3rd service, not for secret and top secret stuff of course but instead for the absolutely essential staff in the performance departments. Apparently they get same day deliveries, audit trails and several dedicated couriers who carry hard copies of the information they email to each other before posting.

27 December, 2007 18:00

 
Blogger Paradise Driver said...

I just love variations on the "Purloined Letter" gambit. Hiding things in plain sight always makes them harder to find. :)

27 December, 2007 19:20

 
Anonymous lone cs said...

Bloggs

let us be fair to the HMRC (if we can) - the report in the press that it was lost in internal mail is bunkum.

Fact: The Govt. in nearly all its Departments has sold off internal mail to private companies.

Fact: In HMRC they use the courier service TNT.

Debunk: The press stated that they never even used registered post. TNT do not have registered post - but they do have track and trace.

Fact: In the dept. I work for the contract provided precludes using track and trace with TNT - I assume the contract is the same in HMRC.

Fact: When TNT loose a package (and they often do) and it is not on track and trace they deny loosing it as they have no evidence it was ever picked up.

Debunk: There was outrage that the data was not encoded. To my knowledge both the Security Services and the computer firm EDS stated long ago that Govt. Depts should not use encoding of data. I'll et you decide why the security service suggested this and why EDS suggested it. I am sure their motivations are different.

Supposition: Whilst the NAO asked for a form of raw data that would not have shown identity, I can virtually guarantee that when HMRC tried to extract the data in that form it was impossible. I can then also guess that EDS either stated it was not possible to split the data or suggested a massive charge for doing so.

Data loss issues are important, but the reasons, imho, that it occured - in HMRC - had more to do with cost cutting by the Govt. and contracting out then by an error on behalf of staff.

28 December, 2007 08:19

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tupperware PC - Where are you?

28 December, 2007 13:10

 
Anonymous Tupperware PC said...

Who want's to know.?

..... I'm writing my new book... it'll be.... called the secret life of a spud-peeling crackshot

In it is a whole chapter dedicated to my life as a psyhco ceramic...a crack pot

Order you're copy now.... whilst stocks......last

28 December, 2007 16:10

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you're using the UK Protective Marking scheme for criminal work - they're really designed around national security rather than policing.

I'm not convinced that your CONFIDENTIAL documents really are; this is one of the problems of using a common word as a PM. For example, the vetting forms that one needs to fill in before being given access to SECRET or TS are themselves only RESTRICTED, and they contain all this personal information.

There's quite a good set of information here - although they allow RESTRICTED to be emailed, which is contrary to the policy in the Manual of Protective Security (MPS). Further, it (and you!) are missing the new marking PROTECT, which is sensitive information with no national security aspect.

Either way - it's no use if frontline staff don't know how to handle protectively-marked information properly, or if the organisation has come up with some approach that prevents it being applied in practice. Ho ho.

29 December, 2007 09:31

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thousand years ago, during the Cold War, I had a classified registry! We worked in a suite, separated by a barred grille, with an ingersoll impregnable, covered by a combination lock, and the filing cabinets lived in another room, with a similar gate, and each cabinet had a combination lock.

Restricted, then, meant "Don't bother the press with this, they've got it already"

Confidential meant "if this gets out, there'll be some very red faces. I still remember the wretched Padre who said "but all my documents are confidential", when it turned out that his clerk worked for the East Germans.

Secret (one diagonal stripe on the file) was serious, and Top Secret (two diagonal stripes) was career terminal. I think I had less than ten TS docs, and we were very careful with them, until my boss and his boss, between them lost a single page, single paragraph A5 letter! His boss was senior enough to decide that one or other of them had shredded the letter.

Both Secret and TS involved the interests of the Nation - Sir Blair's future, if any, would not rate more than Confidential, Staff-in-Confidence!

31 December, 2007 14:01

 
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03 April, 2009 20:49

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely the person who you would have thought had the most practice at handling such documents (the PM) would have had basic training - a security type telling him what to to - so why does he keep leaving stuff on trains and in cars and in insecure places? I wonder if this sets an example to the rest of us...

10 April, 2009 01:51

 
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15 April, 2009 09:52

 

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