In security breach, worker took home 1,400 client files
Personal information in records, RCMP investigating
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
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.”