Federal Eye: Personal Data Mishandled at Commerce Dept.

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009; 4:37 PM

The names and Social Security numbers of at least 27,000 Commerce Department employees were exposed to a risk of identity theft following an inappropriate transfer of the personal information in mid-July, according to a letter sent to department employees last week.

An employee with the National Finance Center mistakenly sent an Excel spreadsheet containing the employees' personal information to a co-worker via e-mail in an unencrypted form on July 13, according to the letter. The employee informed supervisors of the oversight almost immediately, and there is no indication thus far that information has been compromised, according to the letter.

The National Finance Center is part of the Agriculture Department and handles payroll and personnel matters for the Commerce Department and several other government agencies.

The 27,000 employees work across the department's various bureaus and offices, according to a spokeswoman. The department is finalizing an agreement with a data-tracking company to monitor for possible cases of identity theft stemming from the breach of protocol and has urged employees to set up personal tracking alerts with credit reporting agencies.

Preserving information security is an ongoing challenge for the federal government's many agencies and departments. Last week, a Congressional panel heard about the presence of sensitive government information on peer-to-peer file sharing networks. In May, the National Archives admitted it lost an external hard drive with the names and personal information of Clinton administration staffers, including 100,00 Social Security numbers. And in February, the Federal Aviation Administration informed about 45,000 current and former employees of a data breach involving personal information when hackers compromised agency computer systems.

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