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Data breach has Manitobans fearful

-- Worried that scammers may strike years later -- Ottawa's measures so far unsatisfactory

OTTAWA -- Manitobans whose personal data were on a hard drive the federal government lost last fall fear it could be years before they will feel comfortable their identities won't be stolen.

The RCMP and the federal privacy commissioner are both investigating the missing hard drive, which was discovered missing by staff at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada last November. The hard drive contained the names, birth dates, addresses, social insurance numbers and student-loan balances of 583,000 people who had loans through the Canada Student Loans Program between 2000 and 2006.

"How does something like this even happen?" asked Angela.

"I expect the government of all places would definitely have measures in place to prevent this."

Angela, 34, didn't want her full name used in the newspaper. Neither did Erin, also 34, who said her fear is someone could hang on to this information for years before trying to use it to hack bank accounts or set up false credit cards or get other identification.

"This could be years and years that this affects me," she said.

Neither found the information provided via a toll-free line set up for people to call particularly helpful or reassuring.

Erin said she got through quite quickly -- which surprised her -- but all the person on the phone did was tell her she'd be getting a letter with information on how to protect herself.

"Which is a little ironic, because I did protect my information, (it's the government which) didn't."

The hard drive was discovered missing from an office in Gatineau, Que, on Nov. 5 by an employee who had stored it in a filing cabinet. Management was not informed until Nov. 22. A detailed analysis of the files on the hard drive was completed Dec. 6. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner was notified on Dec. 14. HRSDC Minister Diane Finley called in the RCMP on Jan. 7. The news was made public Jan. 11 and the toll-free line set up Jan. 14.

A spokeswoman for the department said the delay in informing the police and the public came because search efforts were underway trying to find the hard drive, and then to determine who was affected.

In a statement Jan. 11, Finley called this an "unacceptable and avoidable incident."

It is the second time in a month her department has had to admit it lost people's personal information. Last month, it was a USB stick containing the names, social insurance numbers, medical records, birthdates, education levels, occupations and disability payments information of 5,000 clients who had applied for disability pensions.

Anne-Marie Hayden, director of communications for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, said the commissioner is investigating both breaches and likely will report on the findings in her annual report to Parliament. She said there is no set time frame for an investigation but last year, the average investigation took about seven months.

Both Erin and Angela said they think the government should do more to compensate people for time and energy spent trying to keep themselves protected now. Angela said, for example, it cost her two hours of time and $5.25 to get her bank and the credit rating companies to mark her file with a notation.

"I shouldn't have to pay for a mistake the government made," she said, noting it's not a lot of money, it's the principle of the matter.

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