Government agency loses more than 500,000 students' personal information

23:07 Jan 11, 2013 · News · By Erwin Melocoton

Courtesy mars_discovery_district / Flickr.com
Diane Finley speaks at an event on Nov. 8, 2012. In a press release earlier today, Finley called the loss of over 500,000 former student loans recipients' personal information "unacceptable".

Data leak discovered during investigation into smaller breach of 5,000 Canadians' information

 

Through a news release on canlearn.ca, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has announced that an external hard drive holding the personal information of Canadians who borrowed money through the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP) has been lost from their Gatineau, Quebec offices.

According to the release, the external hard drive has been missing since Nov. 5, 2012 and affects 583,000 former CSLP clients from 2000-2006. The information stored on the hard drive included names, dates of birth, Social Insurance Numbers, addresses, and student loan balances. Personal information of 250 HRSDC employees was also on the device.

The hard drive was discovered to be missing during an incident review of the loss of a USB key containing the personal information of 5,000 students. Though it was reported missing on Nov. 5, the contents of the missing hard drive were not discovered until Dec. 6. The incident was not reported to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner until Dec. 14, and it was not released to the public until Friday, Jan. 11. The RCMP is now investigating the incident with the assistance of all related government authorities.

“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,” Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley stated through a press release.

“As a result, I have directed that departmental officials take a number of immediate actions to ensure that such an unnecessary situation does not happen again.”

HRSDC has stated that they intend to send out letters with information necessary to help protect the personal information of the individuals who may be affected. Former students who used the program are not happy about the incident, to say the least.

“The Canadian government treats recipients of student loans like second class citizens,” said Anne Thérlaut, a former student at Dalhousie University from 2001-2003. “The fact that it took them months — plural — to announce the loss of this data is proof of that.”

“Education, even post-secondary education, should be the right of every citizen of this country and we shouldn't be forced to jump through hoops, go heavily into debt, and risk identity theft in order to be able to gain marketable skills.”

CSLP is a national program that has clients across the country and works with provincial loan programs such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program. “The Minister has directed that the overall policy for security and storage of personal information at HRSDC be strengthened and improved,” stated the HRSDC in their Friday press release.

Despite HRSDC’s decision to go in a new direction with security policy, some Canadians are skeptical of the government’s ability to protect their information.

“I think anyone would find it rather unnerving that something like this could happen within a government department,” said Ryan Connell, a former student at Conestoga College from 2002-2005.

“I also think the lack of information of how something like this could happen makes me wonder if this is something that can just easily happen again and why there weren't safeguards in place from the start."

Through the news release, HRSDC has stated on their website that their office will not be available for contact until Monday, Jan. 14.

Concerned individuals can contact HRSDC by calling 1-866-885-1866 starting on Monday, January 14. The line will be available every day between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (EST).

More information can be found at http://www.news.gc.ca/web/article-eng.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=1&nid=714639&crtr.tp1D=4

Updates to follow.

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