Memo: Please Erase All Memories of Lost Memory

A “get out of jail free” card? 

In how-not-to-handle-sensitive-data news, the UK government is bracing for a week full of fallout after it kind of, well, misplaced a database of its entire prisoner population. Whoops.

As the poor public relations people at the Home Office explain it, the blame falls upon a contractor who lost a memory stick — one that happened to hold records for every single prisoner in both England and Wales. To clarify: No, it wasn’t stolen. There was no high-tech hack involved. The guy freakin’ lost it.

“Uh, was that thing important? I wish someone would have told me beforehand,” we imagine the fella stammered as he realized it wasn’t just a fun rectangle toy he’d fumbled.

So why is this a big deal? Well, outside of the obvious issues, British media outlets are now speculating that it could give guilty prisoners a “get out of jail free” card. If whoever finds the mishandled memory stick decides to share the data — say, on that fancy new apparatus called the Internet — inmates could claim they’re no longer able to get a fair trial. Having their full criminal histories floating around for anyone to find, lawyers say, could open that door.

But there’s a bigger problem here, too: the fact that for whatever reason, the UK seems to have developed a troubling trend of losing important information. So far, the government is up to four million lost personal records in the past year alone, most from similarly simple “misplacement” of disks or hard drives. Tax records, military recruitment files, driving test results, and medical charts have all done disappearing acts in the past months.

At least, that’s what I think has vanished. I’m not positive. I’d been keeping a detailed database, but I can’t remember where I put my damned memory stick.

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