Friday, January 27, 2006

Data protection? You mean we have to lock our cars?

It's been a bad week for privacy and data protection in the US.

Yesterday Providence Home Services, a Portland, Oregon healthcare provider, confessed that 365,000 patients' records have been stolen from an employee's car on New Year's Eve, four weeks ago. The data included about 250,000 Social Security numbers. Apparently the disks and tapes that held the data were sitting in the car as part of a routine precaution against data centre disasters. The procedure has now been changed.

And the day before Minneapolis-based financial services firm Ameriprise reported the theft of another 226,000 customer records, also late last month. These data too were stolen from an employee's car.

These are serious numbers, from serious companies who should know better. Ameritrust is a recent American Express spinoff. But the most striking part is the apparent carelessness with which the most sensitive types of data - healthcare, finance, and Social Security numbers - are apparently routinely taken off site, in laptops or on media, and left around in cars and God knows where else.


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