AN army laptop said to contain the personal details of serving soldiers and their families sparked a security scare after it was stolen from a car parked near an Edinburgh barracks.
The computer had been left overnight in the vehicle by a Ministry of Defence employee a few hundred feet away from Redford Barracks in Colinton. It was taken during a smash and grab raid last month.
The laptop was missing until last weekend when it came into the possession of a city woman who turned it on to discover confidential files.
It was said to have contained personal details on "thousands" of soldiers and their relatives, though it is not known whether this was password-protected or encrypted.
Several other documents were understood to have been marked as "classified".
The shocked woman contacted the MoD after finding the files and handed the computer into defence chiefs.
CID detectives – along with military police – are now investigating the security lapse following the theft from a car parked in Adams Well on the night of 29 April.
The MoD said anyone "affected by a potential compromise of this information" has been informed.
A security expert branded the lapse as "embarrassing rather than dangerous".
MoD officials refused to say whether a security review or disciplinary procedures would be carried out in the wake of the theft. An MoD spokesman said: "Lothian and Borders civilian police are investigating the theft of a laptop from one of our employees in the Edinburgh area. All inquiries about the theft should be directed to them.
"We are working with civilian police and investigating the circumstances leading up to the theft. Until we have completed our investigations, it would be inappropriate to comment further.
"We take handling of personal information extremely seriously and it is our policy to train and regularly test soldiers on information security."
The woman who is understood to have found the laptop and handed it over to the MoD said she did not want to comment further on the laptop while inquiries were ongoing.
A police spokesman said: "The laptop has been returned. However, inquiries are ongoing in order to identify those responsible for the theft."
Edinburgh-based security consultant Stewart Crawford, an ex-army officer who compiled a risk audit for the Gleneagles G8 summit, said: "I think this was embarrassing rather than dangerous, but you never know.
"Security is the MoD's business so when there is a lapse of this kind, it's particularly embarrassing for them.
"No classified information or personal data should be taken off the base and left unattended.
"The reality is that sometimes people have to travel elsewhere and take that information with them, but it shouldn't be left in a situation where it can be stolen. If it fell into the wrong hands there could be security issues.
"Fortunately it seems to have fallen into the hands of a nice lady who's given it back.
"I would expect some sort of disciplinary procedures will follow if there's blame to be apportioned. Someone has probably careless."
In January last year Defence Secretary Des Browne revealed a laptop containing unencrypted details of around 500 people was stolen from an Army careers office in Edinburgh in 2005.
In January, it was revealed that a total of 440 electronic devices – including 217 laptops – went missing from the MoD last year. Armed Forces minister Bob Ainsworth said 96 memory sticks were lost or stolen, along with 80 hard disk drives and 47 desktop computers.