Jun 12, 2006
A massive data theft was reported at the Veterans Affairs Department last month. Veterans’ personal records, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, were stolen, leaving 26.5 million vets wide open to identity theft.
On top of that, the stolen data also included the records of 2.2 million active-duty members of the military. Someone could return from Iraq – only to discover his or her identity stolen and thousands of dollars of fraudulent debt charged to them.
The government’s story goes that an analyst at the V.A. took home a laptop computer containing the data – and then it was stolen. But it’s not just one sloppy person at fault. The V.A. itself did absolutely nothing to protect the data. It didn’t encrypt it; it allowed the data to be kept on a laptop that could be taken anywhere; and in fact, it allowed the analyst to take his data-filled laptop home with him for three years! And on top of that, once the theft was discovered the V.A. actually sat on the problem for more than two weeks before warning anyone. They were more concerned with protecting the government’s butt than with protecting almost one-tenth of the population.
Now that the story has come out, they’ve made a big show of sending out letters warning all the veterans whose data was stolen. But what do these letters advise? Only that people should spend the rest of their lives checking their credit records. In other words, if any fraudulent debt appears, it will be the vets who have to deal with trying to prove it and clear their names and credit records.
It’s no surprise to see this government – which systematically acts in ways harmful to the population – refuse to take responsibility for its actions.
Nor is it a surprise to see that no politician or official has proposed to cover the costs and hassle for all the veterans and soldiers exposed to identity theft.
This is simply government as usual in a society that puts the population’s needs last.