Transportation Dept. Reveals 2nd Laptop Theft in Fla. Office

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The inspector general's office at the Department of Transportation disclosed yesterday the theft of another laptop from one of its agents in Florida, the second such report in less than a week.

Barbara L. Barnet, the special agent in charge of the Miami office, discovered in April that her laptop had been stolen from a locked room during an agency-sponsored anti-fraud conference in Orlando, acting Deputy Inspector General Theodore P. Alves said yesterday.

"The police report does indicate that there were case files on the computer," Alves said. "The police report also indicates that they were not encrypted, although the computer was password-protected."

There is no indication yet that the computer contained sensitive personal information, Alves said. He said IG officials began reexamining the incident after a different laptop was stolen last month from a special agent's government-issued vehicle near Miami. That laptop contained the unencrypted names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses of as many as 133,000 Florida residents.

When acting Inspector General Todd J. Zinser announced the theft of that computer last Wednesday, he did not disclose the April theft. Alves said that was because officials knew too little then about the incident. Agency officials initially were told that Barnet's laptop, which has not been recovered, contained conference information. Only recently did they learn about the case files, he said.

"We're investigating what happened and any discrepancies that exist between our understanding at the time and what was in the police report," Alves said.

Also yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will equip all of its computers with data encryption software, an effort to prevent the exposure of sensitive personal or agency information if VA computers are lost or stolen.

The $3.7 million contract with Systems Made Simple Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., requires the installation of the encryption program on all laptops by Sept. 15. The department did not provide a timetable for desktop computers but said the encryption efforts also will apply to portable computer drives and CDs.

The data protection program is part of the fallout from the May 3 theft of a laptop and external hard drive from a VA analyst's home. The burglary put at risk the unencrypted names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of millions of veterans. Authorities recovered the equipment and do not believe the data were accessed. A second computer containing VA data went missing from a contractor's office this month.

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