21/10/2012 09:20 BST | Updated 19/12/2012 05:12 GMT

Department of Work and Pensions Blunders, Exposes Dirty Washing in Public

Red faces over at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) as they became the latest in a long list of government departments to publish confidential information to the general public.

In this case, bungling officials appear to have given away the ATOS tender document for the new Personal Independence Payment, along with substantial amounts of sensitive information that they tried - and failed - to conceal.

This blunder gave rise to much amusement - and jubilation - amongst groups that have been campaigning against what they see as the heavy-handed and impersonal way in which ATOS have been testing claimants on out of work sickness and disability benefits.

While the release of detailed personal, financial and technical information may prove embarrassing for the DWP and ATOS, there may be further real consequences to follow.

According to blogger, the void: "Already the documents have been widely distributed to disability and welfare claimants and details from the tender are beginning to emerge - such as the fact ATOS are planning PIP assessments on the cheap by only hiring 1 doctor for every 50 physiotherapists."

The same blogger also reveals that direct action campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) may now be seeking to challenge ATOS in court over what they see as a direct lie contained in the tender. This relates to a claim by ATOS that they have a "successful record of engagement with Claimant Representative Groups", including DPAC.

This is refuted by DPAC themselves, whose principal engagement with ATOS to date has involved organising demonstrations outside their offices, and who write that they "are not and will never be involved with ATOS except as challengers to their process".

Following a period when government organisations were regularly hitting the news headlines by losing databases, this embarrassment would seem to be evidence of a new trend: departments giving away more than they intend while fulfilling their obligations to inform the public.

It follows an incident a couple of months back in which the CPS disclosed details of individuals arrested during student protests in response to an FOI request.

In this instance, a DWP official appears to have mistakenly believed that sticking blocks of colour over sensitive sections of the document would serve to keep them confidential. Unfortunately, as is well known in the IT world, this is not an effective way of redacting material. Activists interested in reading what the DWP did not want them to read had only to take the version of the document supplied in pdf format, resave it as a word document, and all trace of "redaction" disappears.

Shortly after news of this mistake became public, the DWP responded by removing the offending material from their site. Unfortunately, it is now too late for such face-saving efforts, as the original documents are still available by googling the original urls on which they were hosted and then clicking on Quick View.

The DWP was asked for a comment on how this happened and whether they are planning, as the CPS did following their blunder, to report themselves to the Information Commissioner. So far they have not responded.