In se­cu­rity breach, worker took home 1,400 client files

Per­sonal in­for­ma­tion in records, RCMP in­ves­ti­gat­ing

Times Colonist - - Front Page - LIND­SAY KINES and ROB SHAW

The B.C. gov­ern­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a ma­jor se­cu­rity breach af­ter po­lice dis­cov­ered the per­sonal records of 1,400 in­come­as­sis­tance clients in the home of a gov­ern­ment em­ployee, the

Times Colonist

has learned. Names, ad­dresses, birth dates, so­cial in­sur­ance num­bers, per­sonal health num­bers and monthly in­come-as­sis­tance el­i­gi­bil­ity amounts are in­cluded in the records, which cover a pe­riod from De­cem­ber 2006 to April 2007. In some cases, the ma­te­rial also con­tains the names of peo­ple who re­ceived pay­ments on be­half of a client.

The gov­ern­ment fired the em­ployee and launched an in­ter­nal re­view af­ter learn­ing of the breach from po­lice two weeks ago, Cit­i­zens’ Ser­vices Min­is­ter Ben Ste­wart con­firmed yes­ter­day.

“We take the mat­ter ex­tremely se­ri­ously,” said Ste­wart, who over­sees the civil ser­vice. “When I first heard of the mat­ter, you can imag­ine I was vis­i­bly up­set this could have even taken place.”

Ste­wart said the “case worker” was em­ployed by the gov­ern­ment for three years.

The pa­per records listed clients’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion in spread­sheet for­mat and in­cluded in­for­ma­tion from 21 files in the Min­istry of Chil­dren and Fam­ily De­vel­op­ment.

The RCMP dis­cov­ered the records dur­ing an “un­re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Ste­wart said. He de­clined to say what that in­ves­ti­ga­tion was about.

The Van­cou­ver Is­land RCMP Com­mer­cial Crime Unit is aware of the case and is in­ves­ti­gat­ing, said spokesman Sgt. Rob Ver­meulen.

Po­lice have long warned about the risk of iden­tity theft and fraud when peo­ple lose con­trol of key per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, such as birth dates and so­cial in­sur­ance num­bers. Thieves in pos­ses­sion of such in­for­ma­tion can use it to ap­ply for driv­ers’ li­cences, birth cer­tifi­cates and ac­cess to bank ac­counts and credit cards.

“The im­por­tant thing is the fact we do not be­lieve any of the in­for­ma­tion has been com­pro­mised,” said Ste­wart. “That’s what the RCMP has told us.”

The Min­istry of Hous­ing and So­cial De­vel­op­ment be­gan alert­ing its clients of the breach by mail this week. The warn­ing let­ter says the gov­ern­ment will place a se­cu­rity flag on clients’ med­i­cal ser­vice plans, and en­cour­ages them to con­tact a credit-mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice as well as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment if they have con­cerns about their so­cial in­sur­ance num­bers.

“We sin­cerely re­gret and apol­o­gize for this in­ci­dent,” the let­ter says.

Vic­to­ria res­i­dent Salome Wa­ters, who has mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy and re­ceives dis­abil­ity as­sis­tance, said she was “hor­ri­fied” and “scared” by the let­ter.

“Any­body could be us­ing my in­for­ma­tion to trash my credit or put me deeply in debt,” she said. “I don’t know whether my in­for­ma­tion is be­ing used some­where else in the world to build an iden­tity for some­one. I don’t know if I’m cur­rently walk­ing around in beau­ti­ful down­town Afghanista­n as a Tal­iban in­sur­gent.”

Adding to Wa­ters’ con­cerns is the fact that the let­ter warn­ing her of the se­cu­rity breach was it­self mis­han­dled. A note ac­com­pa­ny­ing the let­ter says, “in the last few days you may have re­ceived a copy of this let­ter ad­dressed to some­one else. This was due to a cler­i­cal er­ror and we sin­cerely apol­o­gize for this mis­take.” The note ad­vises clients to re­turn un­opened warn­ing let­ters to the gov­ern­ment, or de­stroy ones that were “ac­ci­den­tally opened.”

Wa­ters, 56, said the blun­ders are “par for the course” for over­worked min­istry staff. “They bug­ger up by not keep­ing track of their pa­per­work and they bug­ger up by send­ing th­ese im­por­tant mes­sages out to the wrong ad­dresses,” she said. “I don’t like that at all.”

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