September 23, 2006

Fun With Data

Are we surprised to find that...

U.S. Commerce Dept. has lost 1,137 laptops since '01
As many as 249 of them contained some personal data

September 22, 2006 (IDG News Service) -- The U.S. Commerce Department reported that 1,137 laptops have been lost or stolen since 2001, with 249 of them containing some degree of personal data.

The department couldn't determine whose data may have been on the machines, of which 672 belonged to the U.S. Census Bureau. It isn't aware of any data having been used improperly, it said Thursday.

Much depends on what they mean by "some degree of personal data". That could be names only, it could be addresses, it could be other information. One has to wonder if they even know.

The Census Bureau's laptops -- used for collecting census data in the field -- rarely contain data on more than 100 households, and the data can't be accessed by the surveyors, many of whom are temporary, hourly employees, the department said.

However, the Census Bureau also lost 15 handheld computers used to gather survey data. As a result, the department is contacting 558 households. The risk of the data being misused is "extremely low," it said, since the data is encrypted and two passwords are required for access.

The Census data has always bothered me. You can't refuse to answer the questions or you get into legal trouble. Yet, it all goes on computers which are supposedly safe. (yes they still want you to feel things are safe, even after all their recent big news data breaches - aren't they just so cute)

The Census Bureau, like the IRS, appears to be somewhat more careful with the data they collect. But who do they have working for them? I hope they are more careful than this:

Unisys subcontractor arrested in VA computer theft
D.C. man charged with stealing desktop with info on thousands

September 15, 2006 (IDG News Service) -- Authorities have charged a 21-year-old Unisys Corp. subcontractor with stealing a desktop computer with billing information on as many as 38,000 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical patients.

Khalil Abdulla-Raheem of Washington was charged Wednesday with theft of government property. He is the employee of an unnamed company that "provides temporary labor to Unisys," according to a statement released by the VA's Office of Inspector General.

That is all the information we have about this man. The police aren't saying much and not a single news organization took it upon themselves to find out more about him. That shows us how interested the news "reporters" are about data theft. I guess Khalil is lucky he likes to steal computers rather than have public fights with a girlfriend. After all, if they had arrested him for something like hitting a woman, we would know his entire life history from start to finish by now.

Yes, I have all kinds of problems with the government and it's lack of data security. From iffy personel with access to the data all the way to leaving the information open for anyone who wants it. It's a complete mess.

Unfortunately you have to try and move a government that is nearly completely inert and has been for at least 50 years. The bureaucracy is so bloated, it just about takes an act of God to make a single change. (protesters may now swarm Capitol Hill and tell God to stop making the government protect the data) The VA data theft of 26 million names was a nudge.

Let's hope it's enough of a push to inspire all government bureaucrats get things turned around...

Oops - sorry I was daydreaming that bureaucrats even care about stuff like data security. They only care about their jobs. So, how about we start firing people who work in departments where data remains unsecured. If they have to stop everything they're doing and work only on securing data, we'd all be better off. We would also find out how much dead wood there is in the government when no one notices these people aren't doing their jobs.

Posted by: Teresa in WebTech at 07:47 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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1 "If they have to stop everything they're doing and work only on securing data..."

...would we even notice the slowdown? :-)

Posted by: Harvey at September 26, 2006 03:40 PM (L7a63)

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