UK betting companies have gained access to a database containing information on roughly 28m children in a huge breach of sensitive government data.
The firms have used the trove of data, which contains names, ages and addresses of children aged 14 and above in schools and colleges across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to boost the number of young people gambling online.
The breach, revealed following an investigation by the Sunday Times, relates to the Learner Record Service, which is designed to help education providers verify a student’s academic records and their eligibility for additional funding.
The Department for Education (DfE) said it has disabled the database and referred the incident to data regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has reportedly told his department to “leave no stone unturned” in its investigation.
The DfE said it had not approved any data sharing with gambling firms, adding that a third-party company was responsible for providing access to the information.
“This was completely unacceptable and we have immediately stopped the firm’s access and ended our agreement with them. We will be taking the strongest possible action,” a spokesperson said.
The breach relates to Chester-based data intelligence firm GB Group, which signed a confidential contract through another company to access the database, according to the report.
GB Group used the data for age and identity verification services it provides to clients, which include gambling firms 32 Red and Betfair.
The DfE said the government had provided access to the Learner Record Service to employment screening firm Trust Systems Software, which trades as Trustopia. The department is investigating whether Trustopia in turn provided access to GB Group.
Trustopia has denied providing access to the database to GB Group, and told the Sunday Times it “placed the highest possible premium” on the lawful use of data.
GB Group said: “We can confirm that we use the Learning Records Service dataset via a third party. We take claims of this nature very seriously and, depending on the results of our review, we will take appropriate action.”