Just days before the start of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week on Monday, the Prime Minister's chief policy advisor Oliver Letwin has been snapped binning what appear to be documents containing personal information in a public park.
The discarded documents are said to include the addresses of Letwin's constituents in West Dorset, which could expose them to identity fraud. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) confirmed that it will investigate the incident under the Data Protection Act.
Photographs of Letwin binning the paperwork were published by the Mirror, which says it found 100 or more documents ditched in bins in St James' Park.
It is believed the files included information about the work of the government's intelligence committee that monitors MI5 and MI6, and reports on the transfer of terrorism suspects and emails about al Qaeda, the Tories' Big Society and the Dalai Lama. Needless to say, Downing Street has stressed that this is not accordance with their policy on the correct disposal of documents.
However No 10 wonks told the Mirror that the documents were "not sensitive" and explained: "Oliver Letwin does some of his parliamentary and constituency correspondence in the park before going to work and sometimes disposes of copies of letters there. They are not documents of a sensitive nature."
It's the allegation concerning information about constituents that could get Letwin in hot water. According to the Mirror, four of the documents dumped contained personal data. That's the first line of inquiry for the Information Commissioner's Office.
"At the moment we're looking at it from a data protection point of view, and at this stage it's an inquiry rather than an investigation. We're not looking at the Official Secrets Act," a spokesman told us.
Identity fraud is a growing concern in the UK: next week the nation will be warned that it is on the rise, with 4 million victims in UK alone. "Yet consumers continue to be complacent with their identities," a press release for the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week states.
IT security companies have been quick to point out the lessons from the case.
"Paper is the most insecure way to store any document," notes Mark Darvill, director at security firm AEP Networks.
"Provided rigorous encryption is used with appropriate access control it’s far better for all information to be stored and disseminated electronically so that only the intended user can read it." ®