updated 8/22/2008 7:00:39 PM ET 2008-08-22T23:00:39

In another embarrassing stumble with computerized data, Britain's government confirmed Thursday that a contractor lost a memory device containing information on every prison inmate in England and Wales.

British officials have been humiliated by a series of such blunders that has raised questions about its ability to safeguard personal information of citizens even as it works on final details for an ambitious national identification program and an expanded DNA data base.

Millions of names and personal details from across the country have been reported lost because computers or memory devices went missing over the past year. The latest comes after the government published a report in June on how it hoped to improve data handling practices.

The Home Office, the country's crime-fighting body, said a contractor lost the device, known as a memory stick, containing the names and dates of birth of 84,000 inmates — England and Wales' entire prison population.

The stick also carried the home addresses of 33,000 criminals who committed six or more recordable convictions over the last 12 months, along with information on 10,000 "prolific and priority offenders," a spokeswoman said. She spoke anonymously in line with departmental policy.

She said the contractor had the data stick as part of research it was doing for the Home Office "tracking offenders through the criminal justice system." She refused to elaborate.

The government has drawn increasing criticism as it reported one data loss after another.

Last November, tax officials revealed they had lost computer discs containing information on 25 million people — nearly half the country's population.

Government departments also have reported losing track of computers, discs and other records carrying information on tens of thousands of prospective military recruits, driving-test candidates and hospital patients.

Two sets of secret government files were left on commuter trains in June, leading to the suspension of a senior intelligence official.

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