Thursday, September 18, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Lost Laptop Follies, Part 8: ATF Loses Laptops... and Guns!

And so the series continues. The Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice has just released "a scathing report" finding that over a 5-year period the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "lost dozens of weapons and hundreds of laptops that contained sensitive information." The DOJ's Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that 418 laptop computers and 76 weapons were lost. According to the report:

Yesterday's report showed that ATF, a much smaller agency than the FBI, had lost proportionately many more firearms and laptops. "It is especially troubling that that ATF's rate of loss for weapons was nearly double that of the FBI and [Drug Enforcement Administration], and that ATF did not even know whether most of its lost, stolen, or missing laptop computers contained sensitive or classified information," Fine wrote. [...]

Many of the missing laptops contained sensitive or classified material, according to the report. ATF began installing encryption software only in May 2007. ATF did not know what information was on 398 of the 418 lost or stolen laptops. The report called the lack of such knowledge a "significant deficiency." Of the 20 missing laptops for which information was available, ATF indicated that seven -- 35 percent -- held sensitive information. One missing laptop, for example, held "300-500 names with dates of birth and Social Security numbers of targets of criminal investigations, including their bank records with financial transactions." Another held "employee evaluations, including Social Security numbers and other [personal information]." Neither laptop was encrypted.

The findings regarding lost weapons were equally troubling, if not a bit humorous:

Two weapons were subsequently used to commit crimes. In one incident, a gun stolen from the home of a special agent was fired through the window of another home. Ten firearms were "left in a public place." One of them was left on an airplane, three in bathrooms, one in a shopping cart and two on the top of cars as ATF employees drove away. A laptop also fell off the top of a car as an agent drove off. Another weapon "fell into the water while an agent was fishing," according to the report.
Now I know the private sector actors lose things too, but as I've pointed out before, if any of this happened in the private sector, trial lawyers would be salivating and lawsuits would be flying. By contrast, when the government loses personal information--information that his usually more sensitive than that which private actors collect--about the most that ever comes out of it is another report calling for "more accountability." Few ever are actually held accountable (i.e., lose their jobs or get sued.)

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:48 AM | Generic Rant , Privacy