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Bank of America Loses Tapes With Federal Workers' Data

By Paul Nowell
Associated Press
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page E01

CHARLOTTE -- Bank of America Corp. has lost computer data tapes containing personal information on 1.2 million federal employees, including some members of the Senate.

The lost data include Social Security numbers and account information that could make customers of a federal government charge-card program vulnerable to identity theft.

Eloise Hale, a Bank of America spokeswoman, said federal law enforcement officials were notified as soon as the tapes were discovered missing.

"The investigation to date has found no evidence to suggest the tapes or their content have been accessed or misused, and the tapes are now presumed lost," the bank said in a news release.

The missing tapes include information on federal employees who use Bank of America "smart pay" charge cards for travel and expenses. Bank of America said it will send letters to current and former government employees whose information is missing and set up a toll-free number for people to voice concerns, according to a report in Government Computer News.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is among those senators whose personal information is on the missing tapes, said Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the senator.

"There were some senators' Visa credit card accounts involved," Schmaler said. "We don't know how many, but he was one of them."

The bank apologized.

"We deeply regret this unfortunate incident," said Barbara J. Desoer, who is in charge of technology, service and fulfillment for the Charlotte-based bank. "The privacy of customer information receives the highest priority at Bank of America, and we take our responsibilities for safeguarding it very seriously."

Leahy has been a leader of calls this week for a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry into whether more regulation of companies that buy and sell personal data is needed.

That came after the disclosure that ChoicePoint Inc., a data warehouser, had learned that as many as 140,000 consumers may have had their personal information compromised.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was told the data backup tapes were likely stolen off of a commercial plane by baggage handlers in December.

Hale, the bank's spokeswoman, said the system of shipping backup tapes is "an industry practice and a routine bank practice. As a safety precaution measure, backup tapes are stored in different locations."

She declined to give details about where and how the tapes are moved around the country.

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