Each January 28th, we celebrate International Data Privacy Day. Around this time, the Internet sees a deluge of blog posts talking about how to secure your personal data, and how companies can best protect your privacy. This article is not one of them.
Rather, we’re going to take a look at the seven wackiest, most unusual places people have lost private data. From trains to roundabouts, there’s a lot to talk about, and even more to laugh at.
In A Secure, Data-Storage Facility
Last year, Ohio’s Regional Income Tax Agency (RITA) announced they had lost a backup DVD containing the information of over 50,000 individuals. The kicker? They’d lost the DVD at a secure offsite backup facility.
I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on them. The DVDs contained tax records, as well as names, addresses, social security numbers (SSNs), and dates of birth, and were due to be shipped to another location for destruction.
On The Train
People often forget to pick up their things when leaving a train. Usually this is just an umbrella, or a newspaper. Not top-secret MI5 intelligence files containing the latest intelligence about Al Qaeda.
But in 2008, a civil servant did just that. These papers were found by another passenger, who handed them over to the BBC, who then passed them on to the police. The civil servant was later suspended from their job.
Someone who probably wasn’t "lovin’ it" was an unnamed Army captain, who in 2008 had his official work laptop stolen from underneath his seat as he ate in a branch of McDonalds.
Fortunately, the laptop was fully encrypted, and the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) adamantly stressed that there wasn’t any sensitive data on it. But it came at an awkward time when a number of MOD laptops had gone walkies with people’s personal data with them.
Just three months earlier, a Royal Navy Officer had a laptop stolen from his car, containing the personal details who had applied to join the Armed Forces. The data included passport numbers, national insurance numbers, and bank details.
In a Pub’s Car Park
In November 2008, a government contractor working on behalf of French IT giant ATOS lost a USB memory stick in the car park of a pub in Staffordshire.
The memory stick contained passwords and usernames for critical government IT systems, including the Government Gateway website, which gave access to tax returns and child tax benefits.
On a Roundabout
Fly tipping is a serious problem. But it’s usually just limited to household waste, not sensitive and confidential documents. But in 2008, a local resident discovered that hundreds of pages of people’s data had been dumped on a roundabout outside of Exeter Airport, in Devon.
Included were photocopies of people’s passports, details of benefit claims, and mortgage payments. It’s still unclear who is responsible for the data breach. The finder delivered the documents to Royal Mail, who pointed the finger of blame at the Dutch postal giant TNT.
The finder then took them to Royal Mail, who blamed the breach on Dutch postal giant TNT. They vehemently denied that they were responsible
At The Hospital
When you go to a hospital, you expect to be looked after. Surely this should extend to your personal data, right?
But in 2010, East Surrey Hospital lost an unencrypted USB stick containing the confidential medical information of over 600 patients, including their names and details of operations performed by the hospital. The stick was never found, and the hospital was thoroughly chastised by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office.
In A Taxi
London’s iconic black taxis have been ferrying passengers around for over 100 years. They are an institution. But a relatively new development is for people to lose their electronic devices in cabs, often containing sensitive and personal information.
According to the British Computer Society, over 55,000 mobile handsets are lost in London taxis every year. Memory sticks and laptops are lost in similarly large numbers. It is perhaps for this reason why Londoners are four times as likely to be victims of identity theft.
In 2009, the British Computer Society launched a campaign to educate the masses about the dangers of leaving their devices in taxis. But it was too late for one spook, who in 2000 left his MI6-issued laptop in a taxi after a night drinking in a London tapas bar. The machine was thankfully recovered two weeks later.
Bring On 2016
As we enter the New Year, we can be assured of one more thing: people will continue to lose other people’s private data. It’s a sure bet they’ll continue to lose them in weird and wonderful places.