A major privacy breach has left some Islanders wondering what to do after a Human Resources and Skills Development Canada office lost an external hard drive containing personal information for 583,000 Canada Student Loan borrowers.
Amanda Thoy is one of those borrowers and said she first heard about the privacy breach Friday through a friend but didn’t follow up on it right away.
“Initially, you think the government won’t lose your information so I kind of thought it’s probably nothing major and I honestly didn’t think I’d be one of them,” she said.
But Thoy soon learned she was wrong when she called a number HRSDC provided on Monday.
She was on the list but said she didn’t get any help from the person she spoke to.
“I got the runaround.”
HRSDC first learned of the privacy breach in November after reviewing another incident involving a lost USB key that contained the personal information of more than 5,000 people.
It was during that review that the department discovered a backup external hard drive containing personal information for Canada Student Loan borrowers from 2000-2006 was lost at an HRSDC office in Gatineau, Que.
That includes information for more than 4,500 people who live in P.E.I.
The information on the hard drive included borrowers’ names, dates of birth, Social Insurance Numbers, addresses and student loan balances.
No information for borrowers from Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories was on the hard drive because those jurisdictions have their own programs.
HRSDC said it will only be sending letters to people affected for whom the department has current contact information to advise them of the privacy breach and what steps to take to protect themselves.
The government also provided a phone number for people to call to see if they were affected.
Thoy called but said she didn’t get much help.
Instead, she was given a scripted response and had to ask twice before the representative told her she was one of the people affected, she said.
Timeline of events provided by Human Resources and Skills Development: • Nov. 5, 2012: Search efforts began after an HRSDC employee discovered an external hard drive was missing. • Nov. 28, 2012: HRSDC’s departmental security officer was notified. • Dec. 6, 2012: Discovery that personal information of Canada Student Loans Program clients was on the hard drive. • Dec. 14, 2012: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner was notified. • Jan. 7: The incident was referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. • Jan. 11: Canadian public was informed of the incident. -
Thoy said the government has forced people to become reactive instead of proactive when it comes to protecting their personal information.
Autumn Getson is another Island resident whose information was lost and said it was unnerving at a time when people are concerned about identity theft.
“Who knows where this information is and what it’s going to be used for,” she said.
In a statement, Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley, said she has directed departmental officials to take immediate action to make sure a situation like the missing hard drive never happens again.
“I want all Canadians to know that I have expressed my disappointment to departmental officials at this unacceptable and avoidable incident in handling Canadians’ personal information,” she said.
Finley also said the department is continuing its investigation and has contacted both the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the RCMP.
The department is implementing new protocols since the incident and portable hard drives will no longer be allowed.
All departmental employees will have to take training on the proper handling of sensitive information and new disciplinary measures will be implemented, up to and including firing anyone who doesn’t follow the new guidelines.
In the meantime, Thoy has set up a Facebook group for people to get together and talk about how to protect themselves, which is information she said the government should have given out.
“We shouldn’t be thrown out to the wolves to figure out how to fix it,” she said.
Anyone who has been affected and needs to provide HRSDC current contact information to receive a letter can do so at 1-866-885-1866 between 8 a.m and 8 p.m.