Over 100 Treasury cell phones wiped clean due to wrongly entered PIN

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Over 100 Treasury cell phones are wiped clean due to wrongly entered PIN
High-security computer or phone systems where multiple entries of a wrong password initiate an irreversible wipe of all data on the device (assuming it's fallen into the wrong hands) isn't unheard of. 

In fact, both Android and iOS smartphones can be easily set up to self-destruct their data after multiple failed attempts to enter the right password. Yet this seemingly innocent security feature is causing a political uproar over in the UK, where it seems to have been used in an extremely unethical way in the Treasury.

A report by The Guardian reveals that in the last year alone, the HM Treasury (the UK government's economic and finance ministry) has factory-erased over a hundred government-issued cell phones, resulting in all records of communication therein wiped clean—simply due to exceeded pin entry attempts. 

That's a startling number of "accidents," and it has brought many a doubt to the masses about whether or not the self-destruct feature has been exploited in this case, to erase information or evidence which may be incriminating if found. The goings-on in the UK Treasury are obviously of great consequence to the public, and public transparency in a variety of areas is mandated by the FOI, although the enforcement is proving questionable.

The discovery was made when PA Media put forward an FOI request (the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities) about how many government phones had been wiped clean in this way in 2020. The answer was a startling 117, out of a total of 2,100. 


The data that was deleted in consequence to the phone resets includes key communications by the HM Treasury's Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar. Scholar had engaged in communications with ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, and was later asked to reveal the messages by other Members of Parliament. 

Cameron had been involved in a serious lobbying scandal along with failed financier Lex Greensill, and his exchanges with Scholar warranted multiple inquiries and investigations.

After Scholar was pressured to disclose what went on between him and Cameron, the Permanent Secretary claimed his phone had been unfortunately wiped and the messages were irretrievable.

"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. 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," claims Tom Scholar.

This inevitably brings up questions about the convenience of such an event, and the all-too-easy ability for civil servants to exploit an auto-destruct feature on their phone. 

The Good Law Project, an organization dedicated to maintaining governmental and legal justice, expressed loud disapproval over the lack of transparency and shady doings currently being unearthed in governmental agencies:

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