Friday, September 22, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

How Does Government Lose So Many Laptops?

Honestly, I don't get it. How in the world does government lose so many laptop computers? I don't know if you heard this yesterday but Sonoma County, CA authorities reported that they had lost one-time JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr's laptop, which supposedly contains evidence of child pornography that could have been used to help prosecute him. In other words, we basically bought this freak a free plane ride back from Thailand and then gave him a big "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Brilliant. How in the world do you lose the laptop of the guy who has been all over the news for the past month?

But wait, there's more missing laptop news. In response to an inquiry from the House Committee on Government Reform, 17 federal agencies where asked to report any loss of computers holding sensitive personal information. The results, revealed yesterday, are staggering. According to Alan Sipress of The Washington Post: "More than 1,100 laptop computers have vanished from the Department of Commerce since 2001, including nearly 250 from the Census Bureau containing such personal information as names, incomes and Social Security numbers..." The Census Bureau's lost laptops alone could have compromised the personal information of about 6,200 households. Apparently, according to MSNBC, "Fifteen handheld devices used to record survey data for testing processes in preparation for the 2010 Census also were lost, the [Census] department said." (And you thought that the Census was accurate!) Other government departments reporting lost computers with personal information include the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission.

Of course, all this comes on top of the lost laptop scandal over at the Department of Veterans Affairs this summer. One lost laptop contained unencrypted information on about 26.5 million people and another had information on about 38,000 hospital patients. And in August, the Department of Transportation revealed that a laptop containing roughly 133,000 drivers' and pilots' records (including Social Security numbers) had been stolen.

I honestly don't understand how are government agencies and officials losing all these laptops but next time they tell us that we can trust them with personal information and other sensitive things I hope we all remember these incidents. This is outrageous.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 8:50 AM | Generic Rant , Privacy