Nashville laptop theft may cost $1 million

Robert McMillan
PC World
Saturday, January 19, 2008; 10:19 AM

The theft of a laptop containing Social Security numbers of Nashville, Tennessee, area voters is expected to cost local officials about US$1 million as they roll out identity-theft protection to those affected.

County officials say that thieves broke into Davidson County Election Commission offices on the weekend before Christmas, smashing a window with a rock and then making off with a $3,000 router, a digital camera and a pair of Dell Latitude laptops containing names and Social Security numbers of all 337,000 registered voters in the county.

County election officials begannotifyingresidents of the breach on Jan. 2, and the local government is offering victims one year of free identity theft protection from Debix Identity Protection Network.

Debix says that 25 percent to 35 percent of victims of this type of breach typically request this service. With the city paying Debix just under $10 per account, the price tag for the laptop theft is expected to be in the $1 million range.

Since state data breach disclosure laws went into effect a few years ago, the theft of an unencrypted laptop computer can become a major problem for any organization that stores sensitive data.

"It is a very bad information-handling practice to keep sensitive information about individuals including their Social Security numbers on an unencrypted laptop or any other device that is removable," said Paul Stephens director of policy and advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a privacy advocacy group that hastrackedthe exposure of 217 million records in the U.S. over the past three years.

Laptop thefts have been the source of privacy breaches at AT&T, The Gap, and the Chicago Public School system recently.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County's IT services department is now working with the Commission to make changes to protect residents from this type of incident and has already come up with 19 recommendations, said Janel Lacy, a spokeswoman for Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

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