LONDON – A repairman discovered a confidential government computer disc hidden inside a laptop bought on eBay, a computer store in northern England said Thursday.
A customer brought the laptop to Leapfrog Computers in Bolton on Monday asking to have it repaired, sales manager Jonathan Parry said.
"A technician had a look at it, opened it up to have a look at the components inside, and when you actually open up the laptop and take off the keyboard, underneath the keyboard was a CD," Parry said.
He said it wasn't immediately clear whether the compact disc, marked "Home Office" and "Private and Confidential," was genuine. Britain's Home Office is the government body responsible for maintaining law and order and fighting terrorism.
When staff realized it was encrypted, they called the police, Parry said.
He said six counterterrorism officers arrived the next day, taking the laptop, along with DNA samples and fingerprints from anyone who had handled it.
Greater Manchester Police confirmed they collected a laptop Tuesday but gave no further information. The Home Office said it was investigating the incident.
Parry said the CD was wedged inside the body of the laptop, apparently deliberately. He added that it might have been stolen before being put on eBay.
The British government has suffered a series of embarrassing losses of public data.
In December, the government's top transport official said a disk containing personal information of 3 million driving test candidates was lost. The same month, the Department of Health said some 168,000 patients' information had also gone missing.
In January, the Ministry of Defense acknowledged that a stolen laptop might contain sensitive details on some 600,000 prospective military recruits.
But those incidents were dwarfed by the admission, in November, that tax officials lost computer disks containing information — including banking records — on nearly half the people of the country.