The Commerce Department has lost 1,137 laptop computers since 2001, most of them assigned to the U.S. Census Bureau, officials said last night.
The Census Bureau, the main collector of information about Americans, lost 672 computers. Of those, 246 contained some personal data, the department said in a statement.
However, no personal information from any of the missing computers is known to have been improperly used, the department said. The number of people affected by the equipment losses could not be determined, the department said. The review was prompted by congressional and public inquiries.
"All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information," Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said in a statement. "The amount of missing computers is high, but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low."
More than 30,000 laptops had been used within the department's 15 operating units since 2001, the department said, and a total of 1,137 were stolen or missing.
Fifteen handheld devices used to record survey data for testing processes in preparation for the 2010 census also were lost, the department said. The department was in the process of contacting the 558 households with data recorded on the missing devices, although because of encryption technology, the risk of data misuse was considered low.
A half-dozen other federal agencies or departments have reported data thefts and security breaches involving personal information in the past six months.
In the case of the Commerce Department, second only to the Census Bureau in missing laptops was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It reported 325 missing laptops, three of them containing personal data. Among those stolen was one used by a NOAA law-enforcement agent and containing some case file information.
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