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Alistair Darling has blamed mistakes by junior officials at HM Revenue and Customs after details of 25 million child benefit recipients were lost.
The Chancellor said information, including bank details of 7m families, had been sent on discs to the National Audit office by unrecorded delivery.
Mr Darling said it was "an extremely serious failure".
The banks have said the missing data is not enough to access accounts on its own and there is no evidence of fraud.
The chairman of Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray, resigned earlier.
The data was sent on October 18 and senior management at HMRC were told it was missing on November 8 and the Chancellor on November 10, said Mr Darling.
Originally posted by neformore
Its a material breach of the Data Protection Act. Imagine 25 million lawsuits
Originally posted by Ste2652
Chances are it's sitting either in some post bag at the HMRC or some worker at the TNT courier hasn't recorded it and then forgot about it. It's not likely (at this stage, anyway) that it's fallen into unsavoury hands.