People want to know why a disgraced TalkTalk CEO is leading the government's testing programme

People want to know why a disgraced TalkTalk CEO is leading the government's testing programme

People really want to know why the government has appointed "naive" ex-TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding to lead its coronavirus testing programme.

Baroness Harding was head of the network when it was hacked by two teenage boys in 2015, resulting in almost 157,000 customers having their personal details stolen. She will now oversee the roll out of a Covid-19 tracing app, that was piloted in the Isle of Wight and will now begin to be introduced to the rest of the UK on Thursday.

A few weeks ago, Matt Hancock announced the news that Harding will head up the cross-government Track, Test and Trace programme, saying that "he can't think of anyone better than Dido" for the job. But people have concerns.

Harding, a Conservative life peer, was CEO of TalkTalk between 2010 and 2017 before becoming chair of NHS Improvement, overseeing all NHS trusts and hospitals.

But she is best known for the controversy surrounding her handling of the 2015 cyberattack that exposed the financial records of thousands of TalkTalk customers.

The personal details of almost 157,000 customers were stolen, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. The bank numbers and sort codes of nearly 16,000 people were also accessed by the hackers, as well as the obscured credit and debit card numbers of a further 28,000.

Harding was forced to admit that not all customers' data was encrypted, including some bank details. She also demonstrated an apparent lack of understanding about how the hack could have happened in early interviews, sparking the criticism that she was "naive" and even "ignorant".

Harding also took an inflexible line on termination fees, subjecting customers to the "normal rates" if they wished to leave TalkTalk immediately after the attack.

After investigation, the network was fined £400,000 by regulator ICO, who found that the hackers were able to access TalkTalk systems "with ease" because of "technical weaknesses". In all, the hacks cost TalkTalk £77m.

Harding resigned 18 months after the cyberattack, claiming that she regarded it "ancient history". She also claimed her full £550,000 salary despite only working for two months of the financial year.

Last year it was revealed by BBC Watchdog that the personal details of over 4,500 TalkTalk customers who were told their data was not stolen was accessible by a simple Google search. Indeed, the consequences of the data breach continue to this day.

The government faced questions from MPs over Harding's suitability to head up NHS Improvement in 2017, concerns which have resurfaced in light of her newest appointment.

They have also been accused of making a "political appointment", as Harding is a Conservative peer.

Some have questioned why the government didn't appoint an independent with expert medical knowledge.

As leader of the Track, Test and Trace programme, Harding will report directly to the prime minister and cabinet secretary as she oversees coronavirus contact-tracing, swab and antibody testing and immunity certification.

Particularly controversial is the fact that she will oversee the roll-out of a new NHS Covid app aimed at tracing the virus given her track record with handling data.

Of course, the fact that TalkTalk was hacked under Dido Harding doesn't necessary mean that the same will happen to the NHS Covid tracing app.

But after a series of failures in providing NHS staff and the public with sufficient coronavirus tests, can the government really afford to take any chances?

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