Our Opinion: Data at risk

Monday, July 17, 2006

The good news is the laptop computer and hard drive containing personal information on 26.5 million veterans and military personnel, that was stolen from a Veterans Affairs Department employee's home, has been returned, and it appears the critical information had not been accessed.

The bad news is that a VA employee took the laptop home, where it was stolen, placing at risk information that might have led to wholesale identity theft.

The employee who took the laptop home has been fired, but he is fighting the termination, citing the fact that he had permission to take the sensitive data home. And although VA Secretary Jim Nicholson has endured a couple of tongue-lashings from irate congressmen, he does not appear to have even been reprimanded by his boss, President Bush.

The security of files with data like Social Security numbers, birth dates, home addresses and the like has always been a concern. With the portability of massive amounts of information on a small laptop hard drive, the problem is even more acute.

When government officials allow such information to be taken away from secure settings, they are inviting the worst possible outcome. It would help restore our faith in the security of government data if the penalties for this breach were as severe as the potential outcome.