Federal Government Routinely Loses Computers Containing Sensitive Personal Information on Americans

Oct 13, 2006 4:35pm

The federal government has routinely lost computers containing massive amounts of sensitive personal information, according to a new report by the House Committee on Government Reform. Every one of the 19 departments and agencies audited reported at least one loss of personally identifiable information since 2003. Overall, the U.S. government gets a D+ for computer security.  The report shows more than 800 incidents, including the loss of hundreds of laptop computers and flash drives containing personal information about millions of Americans. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Recent Data Thefts Target State Department Among Others State Department’s Computers Attacked by Hackers Click Here for More of the Brian Ross Page Many of the incidents involve "employee carelessness, contractor misconduct, and third party thefts," the report says.
The Department of the Treasury, which includes the IRS, reported 340 separate incidents, the most of any department or agency.  According to the report, the Treasury Department "could not report the number of individuals impacted, whether notification of individuals had occurred, or whether incident-specific remedial efforts were undertaken."
The Department of Transportation reported only one minor incident to the Committee, but a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a series of data breaches that compromised information affecting 133,000 people.  The Department of Transportation also lost nearly 400 laptop computers, the report said.         
The Defense Department reported 43 incidents, including the loss of the personal information of 30,000 recruiting prospects after a laptop fell off a motorcycle belonging to a Navy recruiter.  A thumb drive lost in March of this year contained records on more than 200,000 enlisted Marines.
Some of the losses had been previously reported, such as the massive loss of data from the theft of a Department of Veterans Affairs official’s laptop.  But the report says few of the incidents it describes have been reported publicly. 

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