- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

A vanished 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.

As of late yesterday, 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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