Millions of Britons face having their lives made a “misery” by mistakes on Government databases, it was claimed last night.Experts warned these errors could even put lives at risk by leading to inappropriate medical treatment.
Research by IT specialists found 4 per cent of the population – almost two million people – had discovered incorrect information stored under their name by Whitehall or local authorities.
The total climbs even higher when partial or incomplete information is included.
The British Computer Society said this left different departments holding conflicting pieces of information about a person.
When they tried to share information, it led to “mismatches” in an alarming 20 per cent of cases.
The society’s spokesman, Dr Louise Bennett, said this could have “potentially extremely serious” consequences, including someone being wrongly identified as diabetic, or someone suffering from the condition not being treated in an emergency.
It could even mean a person being wrongly recorded as dead, if he or she had very similar details to another individual.
The researchers urged every member of the public to check the records under their name.
This includes checking the DNA database – which contains more than half a million inaccurate entries – the identity and passport database, NHS records, the Department for Work and Pensions database and the tax credits and income tax computer system.
To access personal records each department suspected of holding a file has to be contacted individually and can charge up to £10 to provide the data.
But the Computer Society said the consequences of not checking could be months of “suffering”, dealing with the chaos incorrect entries can cause.
In a survey, the Society found that 26 per cent of people have asked or searched for information held on them. Of those who needed to correct one or more errors, 35 per cent said it was “difficult” and 36 per cent described it as “time consuming”.
The survey found confidence in the Government’s ability to handle sensitive data had fallen among two thirds of adults, following the loss of discs containing the details of 25million child benefit claimants.
The high number of database inaccuracies casts further doubt on the Government’s £4.5billion ID card scheme – which will store biometric details such as fingerprints alongside a person’s name and address.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “This is yet more evidence of the Government’s inability to handle people’s data and why they should abandon their dreadful ID card scheme which, far from improving people’s security, will clearly make it worse.”
The report came as a Parliamentary committee delivered a blistering verdict on recent Government data losses.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said the losses were “symptomatic of the Government’s persistent failure to take data protection safeguards sufficiently seriously”.
Chairman Andrew Dismore said: “People were shocked by the recent loss of child benefit data but that was far from a oneoff. In fact, it was symptomatic of lax standards in the public sector.
“Information should be treated as sensitively and carefully as hard cash. It has taken the massive data loss by HMRC to bring the true consequences of the piecemeal approach to data management to light. The Government must demonstrate that it appreciates the seriousness of what needs to be done.”
© 2008 Associated Newspapers Limited