Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dumpster Database

The Bellville News Democrat yesterday had a story about documents containing personal information being found in the trash behind an Illinois Department of Human Services building. Stuff that would make identity theft very easy.

Rich Miller has some discussion on this today as well.

I have worked for two employers that regularly handled sensitive personal information including Social Security numbers, one public sector (the very poorly managed Illinois Department of Employment Security) and a private sector company that will remain unnamed here. In both instances, there were times when this information was routinely thrown in the trash and then put in unlocked trash bins at night. Also in both instances, there was eventually an effort made to prevent this by requiring special disposal methods. My guess is these methods are about 98% effective. That is, some of this information is still getting thrown away by workers either out of laziness (“its just one name and Social Security number”) or out of carelessness.

Consider this too: this information can be abused before it even hits the shredder. I remember a story from about 10 years ago where Illinois Department of Employment Security personnel (it may have been only one guy, I can’t remember now) were arrested for selling personal information obtained at work. And that’s just the one(s) that got caught. Believe me, there’s more going on even if not quite as serious.

A lot of the problem could be dealt with if we, as a society, would stop using Social Security numbers as national identification numbers. There are some trends that way now but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Update: Speak of the devils. Checking the Belleville News Democrat’s archives I found this story from last spring:
SPRINGFIELD -- A day after the Illinois Department of Employment Security launched a statewide review to better enforce a document shredding policy,
personal records of clients were found in a trash bin outside state headquarters.

The records found Wednesday are similar to those found last week in a trash bin outside the department's office in Belleville.

The Springfield records were in an open container near the front door of the Illinois Department of Employment Security's state headquarters at 850 E. Madison St.

In just a few seconds, a News-Democrat reporter fished the appeals of two women seeking unemployment insurance benefits from the open trash bin as state workers returning from lunch walked nearby. The documents contained the women's names, addresses and Social Security numbers as well as details of their appeals, information that can be used by criminals to steal their identities to obtain phony credit cards and open fraudulent checking accounts.


A limited tour Wednesday of the area around the Capitol in Springfield turned up personal records in trash bins outside the state Department of Human Rights, 222 S.
College St., and behind the state comptroller's office, 325 W. Adams St.
The crackdown at IDES I was talking about above occurred maybe 10 years ago and they are still finding this stuff? Like I said, it's never going to be fool-proof. Time to lose the Social Security number based economy.


Anonymous said...

I love how the comments of CapitolFax's story have turned into a debate over 'whiny state employees'.

I guess I haven't ever worked in the private sector but pretty much everyone I work with is extremely conscientious in getting the job done in light of staff shortages, budget shortages and shortages of every other kind.

Given my own experience I imagine the problem resulted from miscommunication of some nature and not a 'laziness' on anyone's part. I, personally, have had a case where my document was placed out in a 'secure' building to be picked up for the mail was inadvertently thrown away by cleaning staff.

Dave said...

Even if any "laziness" factor is removed, the "screw-up" factor is still there as you suggest. With that much paper floating around things are going to get through accidentally or otherwise.

For the record, I'm not indicting all state employees either. Not even close. I was one for nearly ten years. My parents both retired from the State. Having said that, state employees are people too, subject to error in action and error in judgment. Like I said, I'm personally familiar with a similar private sector problem.