MoD Secrets Revealed on Facebook

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The Ministry of Defence has admitted that staff have leaked secrets on social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter

More data leak embarrassment for the British government after The Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted that confidential information has been leaked on social media sites and the Internet at least 16 times over the past 18 months.

The information came to light after Lewis PR made a ‘Freedom of Information’ request to the MoD.

“Service personnel are dealt with under Warnings and Sanctions or Service Law,” replied the MoD to the request. “The number of Service personnel who have been disciplined in the last 18 months is 10 (this figure has been rounded).”

The MoD however remained cagey about the exact nature of the information that had been leaked, and whether any of its systems or operational deployments had been compromised. It said it was not in the interest of its security to disclose this information.

“Information is exempt under section 31(1)(a), as its disclosure would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, namely electronic attacks on the MoD’s databases or ICT systems via a number of means,” said the MoD.

The MoD also failed to outline the nature of any action taken against the 10 members of staff that were guilty of leaking the information.

“Civilian personnel in the Ministry of Defence could receive informal or formal disciplinary action. The level of detail you requested, disciplinary action for the misuse of social media, is not held centrally,” it said.

“The Freedom of Information Act does not require us to change any system or process used by the Ministry of Defence or the Armed Forces to fully respond to requests for information, therefore we are unable to meet this part of your request,” it added.

This is not the first time that the Ministry has been exposed. Last July the MoD admitted it had lost an entire server from a secure building during 2008. In addition, the MoD also admitted that it had lost personal data on 1.7 million individuals in October of that year.

This happened when a portable hard disk containing personal data of some 1.7 million individuals went missing from the supposedly secured office of a contractor. The personal information that was lost was apparently related to individuals interested in joining the military, rather than serving personnel.

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The news highlights the problems many organisations face about the use of social networking. For example, Cisco recently warned that the use of social networking sites in enterprises required much greater governance and oversight than is currently practised. And some research has found that over 50 percent of UK organisations block access to social media sites, because Facebook data could be required in legal eDisclosure requests.

Earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook famously waded into the right to privacy argument concerning the use of social networking sites, saying privacy is no longer a social norm and that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, thanks to increasing uptake of social networking.