By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL
Associated Press Writer
Sept. 21, 2006
WASHINGTON - The Commerce Department has lost 1,137 laptop computers
since 2001, most of them assigned to the Census Bureau, officials said
The Census Bureau, the main collector of information about Americans,
lost 672 computers. Of those, 246 contained some personal data, the
department said in a statement. However, no personal information from
any of the missing computers has been known to have been improperly
used, the department said.
The number of people affected by the equipment losses could not be
determined, the department said. The review was prompted by
congressional and public inquiries.
"All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to
prevent a breach of personal information," Commerce Secretary Carlos M.
Gutierrez said in a statement. "The amount of missing computers is high,
but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low."
More than 30,000 laptops were used within the department's 15 operating
unit since 2001, the department said, and a total of 1,137 were stolen
Fifteen handheld devices used to record survey data for testing
processes in preparation for the 2010 Census also were lost, the
department said. The department was in the process of contacting the 558
households with data recorded on the missing devices, although because
of encryption technology, the risk of data misuse was considered low, it
A half-dozen other federal agencies or departments have reported data
thefts and security breaches involving personal information in the last
The Veterans Affairs Department suffered the biggest loss with the theft
in May of a laptop and external drive containing information for 26.5
million veterans and active-duty troops. Burglars stole the equipment
from the home of a Veterans Affairs employee, but the computer was later
recovered and showed no signs of having been accessed for the personal
Other government departments reporting the loss of computers with
personal information include the departments of Agriculture, Defense,
Education, Energy, Health and Human Services and Transportation. The
Federal Trade Commission also has lost laptops with sensitive data.
In the case of the Commerce Department, second only to the Census Bureau
in missing laptops was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. It reported 325 missing laptops, three of them
containing personal data.
Among those stolen was one used by a NOAA law enforcement agent and
containing some case file information. In July, a laptop containing
Social Security numbers and other information on 146 employees and
contractors was reported stolen after a fire in a NOAA facility in
Seattle, the department said.
Gutierrez said the department was taking steps to protect against
further missing laptops or potential breaches of personal identity data.
Among them were inventory reforms, including creating a database for all
departmental property, and "raising employee accountability standards."
"This review process has clearly pointed out the flaws in the
department's inventory and accountability efforts going back many
years," Gutierrez said. "We are viewing this process with the spirit of
actively rooting out the problems and addressing them immediately."
On the Net:
Commerce Department: http://www.commerce.gov
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