Time Warner Reports Loss of Personal Data on 600,000 Employees

By Cecile Daurat
Bloomberg News
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Time Warner Inc., the world's largest media company, said computer tapes containing personal information on 600,000 current and former employees were lost.

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating the disappearance of a container holding 40 backup tapes, Time Warner spokeswoman Kathy McKiernan said yesterday. Data-storage company Iron Mountain Inc. discovered the loss after a driver who picked up the tapes in New York performed a scan after his delivery in New Jersey, company spokeswoman Melissa Burman said.

The probe hasn't found evidence that the tapes have been accessed or misused, New York-based Time Warner said. The case is the second-largest loss of personal data after an incident involving Bank of America Corp., which in February said it lost information on about 1.2 million federal government charge-card accounts, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director at Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"This is very serious," Rotenberg said. The case "underscores the need for Congress to move aggressively to protect" private identities.

Iron Mountain, the largest seller of record-management services with 200,000 customers worldwide, makes 5 million pickups and deliveries a year with a 99.99 percent accuracy rating, Burman said. This year, the company has lost four shipments of tapes, she said.

In April, Iron Mountain told clients to encrypt data being sent for storage, and Time Warner said yesterday in a letter to employees posted on its Web site that "the information on the tapes is in a form that is not easily accessed."

The missing tapes contain names and Social Security numbers of current and former U.S.-based employees of Time Warner and its affiliates, U.S. citizens working for the company abroad and some other workers, Larry Cockell, Time Warner's chief security officer, said in the letter.

The tapes do not include data on Time Warner's customers, he said. The company currently employs 85,000 people worldwide.

The Secret Service shares jurisdiction with the FBI in identity-theft cases, Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry said. He said the agency is working with Time Warner and the data-storage company on the case.

Time Warner's data was misplaced as privacy concerns are increasing after Reed Elsevier PLC and ChoicePoint Inc. said last month that information on more than 400,000 people may have been fraudulently accessed. London-based Reed Elsevier said it found 59 incidents over two years in which unauthorized people may have acquired information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers.

Time Warner managers "deeply regret that this incident occurred," Cockell said in the letter. The company offered workers help in contacting credit-rating agencies to monitor their accounts.

Time Warner has been an Iron Mountain client for 10 years and plans to stay with the company, McKiernan said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company