Law enforcement officials located a missing laptop which had been stolen from an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The employee violated the organization’s policy when he took home a laptop, a computer disk, and an external storage device, which was later stolen in a household burglary. The stolen equipment and storage devices contained the personal information of 26.5 million military vets—just enough data to support identity theft—information including names, birth dates, social security numbers of all living veterans discharged since 1976. The laptop was recovered after an informant responded to a $50,000 reward offer.
According to Associated Press, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said a preliminary review of the equipment by its computer forensic teams “has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen.”
It is not clear whether the reward was paid to the informant, but that’s really not the issue at all. Fifity-thousand dollars is nothing compared to the real cost of this content management mishap. If one considers the expense of notifying the 26.5 million veterans—let’s assume a conservative cost of $2 per person to locate, create, prepare, and deliver a letter to each veteran affected—we’re already spent $53 million. Add to the mix President Bush’s request that Congress pay for credit monitoring services for all 26.5 million veterans—a whopping $160.5 million—and the reason for not allowing employees to take personal information home with them becomes evident. Oh, and that’s not all, there’s a class action lawsuit in the works against the VA for its lack of security. While it may be convenient to take a laptop home from work, this practice, at least in certain instances, should obviously not be allowed.
Of course, the VA is not the only U.S. government agency to have such problems. The Internal Revenue Service lost a laptop containing the personal information—and fingerprints—of its employees. The U.S. Navy also somehow lost track of a spreadsheet full of personal information. The personal details of 28,000 sailors and their families later ended up on a website for all to see. And two laptops loaded with personal information of 110 suspects under investigation were stolen from the vehicles of Federal Trade Commission attorneys.
American government officials aren’t the only ones losing laptops loaded with personal data and top secret information. The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that as many as 35 laptops have been stolen from or lost by UK government ministers in the past three years. Even MI5 agents have lost laptops loaded with sensitive information.