Home­land in­se­cu­rity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Avan­ished com­puter hard drive has left 100,000 cur­rent and for­mer Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion em­ploy­ees fear­ing for their fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity. The rest of us should be won­der­ing why the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — es­pe­cially the agen­cies with “se­cu­rity” in their names — can­not even safe­guard its own as­sets.

No one seemed to know where this Of­fice of Hu­man Cap­i­tal hard drive went, when it went miss­ing nor whether it was stolen by iden­tity thieves or lost by bum­blers. The hard drive bears the So­cial Se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion, bank­ing data, dates of birth and em­ploy­ment de­tails of TSA per­son­nel of all lev­els and po­si­tions em­ployed dur­ing the pe­riod 2002-05. This in­cludes fed­eral air mar­shals. Af­fected per­sons are ad­vised to check www.tsa.gov for up­dates on safe­guard­ing their fi­nances in the wake of this breach and how to par­tic­i­pate in the free, one-year iden­tity-theft pro­tec­tion that the agency is of­fer­ing, as it should.

With good jus­ti­fi­ca­tion did the April 2007 re­port is­sued by Pres­i­dent Bush’s Iden­tity Theft Task Force make a pri­or­ity of get­ting agen­cies to cut down on their use of So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, which are prized tar­gets for iden­tity thieves, in­clud­ing the cod­dlers of il­le­gal aliens. This is trained at SSN overuse writ large, not specif­i­cally in cases like this one. But the point stands: Fed­eral agen­cies are prov­ing baf­flingly in­ca­pable of pro­tect­ing this most sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, even of its own em­ploy­ees, while iden­tity thieves and other black mar­ke­teers grow savvier and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for wrong­do­ing mul­ti­ply.

This year, it emerged that 40,561 farm­ers’ So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers were com­pro­mised by In­ter­net post­ings from var­i­ous Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment of­fices, as, trou­blingly, they had been do­ing for years. There have been other cases, most no­tably last year’s De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs scare. In that case, a lap­top con­tain­ing the sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of 26.5 mil­lion mil­i­tary vet­er­ans was stolen from the home of an em­ployee who had wrongly taken it there. Luck­ily, this was petty thiev­ery and not an at­tempt at iden­tity theft. The com­puter was re­cov­ered.

Read­ing over the Bush iden­tity-theft re­port gives a sense of how far be­hind the gov­ern­ment is. For in­stance, the re­port calls for a sur­vey of cur­rent use of So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers by agen­cies. In other words, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not even know the ex­tent of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity its var­i­ous arms are cre­at­ing.

This latest breach is be­yond de­mor­al­iz­ing in an agency which is sup­posed to spe­cial­ize in se­cu­rity. It is an­other sign of the en­demic lax­ity of in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

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