538,000 Canadians’ info on lost USB: Human Resources
January 11th, 2013 - 1:00pm
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has lost a USB key containing personal information of more than half a million Canadian student loans borrowers.
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley notified Canadians in a statement Friday. According to the statement, the missing external hard drive came from the HRSDC office in Gatineau, Que.
The statement said the USB key contained information of 583,000 Canada Student Loans borrowers between 2000 and 2006, including student names, dates of birth, Social Insurance Numbers, addresses and student loan balances. However, it did not contain information for students in Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, as they manage their own student loan programs.
The USB also contained personal contact information of 250 HRSDC employees, according to the statement. But it did not hold banking or medical information, and the client information was saved onto an external hard drive as back up.
Despite the loss, Canadian Student Loans borrowers are probably not off the hook.
“The department will be making every effort to contact the individuals whose information was lost. This includes direct notification to those for whom we have current contact information,” said Finley in the statement.
According to a HRSDC backgrounder released Friday, an HRSDC employee discovered that the USB key was missing on Nov. 5, 2012, when search efforts began. On Dec. 6, it was determined that the USB key contained personal information of Canada Student Loans Program.
HRSDC said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the RCMP have been notified, given the “serious nature” of the information loss. Although the search is ongoing, HRSDC said the USB has been deemed lost.
NDP Human Resources and Skill Development Critic Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet said the government needs to alert the public as soon as this type of critical information goes missing.
“You can’t not doing anything for two months and let people know two months after that their identity might have been stolen,” said Boutin-Sweet. “I mean it’s critical, it’s information that’s very important for people.”
Boutin-Sweet said that, to the best of her knowledge, this is the biggest breach of confidentiality that’s ever happened in Canada.
A hotline has been set up for individuals affected and to answer questions regarding the loss (1-866-885-1866).
“I am releasing all details on the breach publicly and we will be working with a number of external partners to ensure that Canadians are made aware of the data loss,” said Finely.
Finley expressed disappointment to department officials for the “unacceptable and avoidable incident” and said she wanted to ensure Canadians that HRSDC is serious about protecting personal information. She said the department has taken steps to ensure the information loss does not happen again.
The new HRSDC policy for storing secure information says portable hard drives are no longer allowed and that unapproved USB keys are not to be connected to the HRSDC network. All employees will go through mandatory training for proper handling of sensitive information and a new data loss prevention technology will be implemented.
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