The British public, now confirmed by official figures to be the most public in the world, have been assured that their personal data is completely safe. From now on, even the people who are supposed to read it won't be able to.
"We've lost the encryption key with which we encoded all the data," a Home Office minister told parliament yesterday. "If anyone finds it in their local skip, do let us know."
The minister explained that "After the theft of half the nation's personal details on government laptops, we encrypted all that was left. Unfortunately, the magic numbers needed to de-code this information were stolen from a civil servant's car while parked in a traffic queue on the Heathrow Spur Road. So now we've no idea what anyone's called, or where they live, or whether they came to us to join the army or have their wisdom teeth removed."
In answer to complaints that some people may want their details retrieved, so they can receive vital social benefits or medical treatments, the Ministry of Defence has announced that efforts to crack the code are under way at its secret intelligence centre at Bletchley Park. "This is code-named the Stigma project," said a Ministry representative. "Unfortunately someone's broken in and stolen the code book, so we can't tell you what it's actually called."
Inside the Park's nondescript buildings, long rows of secretaries sit at what look like giant manual typewriters, tapping in the latest pieces of code and then trying to translate them using the ingenious formulae the assembled cryptographers have come up with. We tried to pay a visit yesterday but got stuck in a 25-mile traffic jam round Milton Keynes, which officials say was due to a routine mistranslation of the Highway Code.
However, morale is high at Bletchley because the Park has recently recruited a brilliant but eccentric mathematician, Alan Spyring - who is believed to be on the verge of breaking the Stigma Code, and also lays foundations for the whole of modern computing in his spare time. Police are reportedly keen to interview Dr Spyring about mysterious incidents surrounding a recent break-in at his home. But luckily his address was on a secret government database, so they have no idea where he lives.
Last night Clive Clueless, the Minister for Missing Information, angrily denied opposition claims that the electoral roll, the Register of Members' Interests and the schedule for this year's Wimbledon are among the lists that have been irreversibly locked away. "There is no better way of keeping these vital pieces of data safe than by ensuring that absolutely none of us can read them," he said. "After all, we're already on the brink of world recession. Who wants to know that Andy Murray is in the tougher half of the draw?"
The minister added that, to ensure there is no disruption to the records before they are retrieved, no-one will be allowed to move house. Chancellor Alastair Sparkling confirmed that this is impossible anyway, as the housing market has collapsed, and praised his predecessor Gordon Brown for being so far-sighted as to arrange for this to happen.