Over 100 Treasury phones wiped in 2020 after passcode errors – including perm sec's

More than 5% of department's mobile phones were reset after staff entered the wrong pin code
Photo: Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Sam Trendall

15 Jul 2021

Last year more than 100 mobile phones used by Treasury staff were wiped of all data after users entered the wrong pin code.

In evidence given recently to parliament’s Treasury select committee, the department’s permanent secretary, Tom Scholar, admitted that his own device had been wiped last summer after he forgot his passcode. A freedom of information request from news agency PA has now revealed that the perm sec’s phone was one of 117 that suffered the same fate at some point in 2020. 

This equates to 5.6% of the total of 2,100 in use across the department.

“At the beginning of June last year, it had to be reset because, under government security as applies to mobile phones, if the password is incorrectly entered more than a few times, the phone is locked, and the only way to unlock it is to reset it,” Scholar told MP last month.

“Resetting it means that the data on it is lost. I knew that when it happened last June, and I am certainly not the only person to whom that has happened.”

Scholar had been asked, via an FoI request, to release transcripts of texts he had sent to David Cameron regarding the ex-prime minister’s lobbing on behalf of fintech firm Greensill Capital. 

The request was initially refused on account of Scholar’s phone having been wiped of all data. However, the messages were subsequently published after they were supplied by the former PM.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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