Federal Workers Not Pleased With Loss Of Data Tapes

FedSmith.com readers speak out about lost data tapes.

Not surprisingly, FedSmith.com readers expressed their concerns and anger over the Bank of America’s announcement that data tapes containing personal information for 1.2 million federal employees was lost in December.

Coming on the heels of several other high profile identity thefts and losses from other national data brokers over the past few months, federal employees remain concerned that the lost data tapes were actually stolen or will end up compromised and eventually land in the hands of criminals or even terrorists.

Bank of America has given no official statement as to where the tapes may have ended up. Speculation among officials was that the tapes may have ended up in a landfill (but there has been at least one suggestion from the political arena that the tapes could have been stolen). Without specifying what action has been taken, BoA officials have stated that steps have been taken to ensure that such an occurrence does not happen again.

In the meantime, readers have expressed very strong opinions about not only what Bank of America’s responsibilities should be now that they’ve lost the data, but where the tapes could be as well as the current process of having to provide personal credit information for a government charge card.

When asked whether they were confident that their personal information would not end up in the wrong hands in light of the lost data tapes, 59% said they were not every confident. Furthermore, another 31% said they were simply waiting on the illegal charges to begin. 6% said they were somewhat confident that their personal information was secure, while 3% said they weren’t sure. Only 1% said they were very confident that their personal information would not end up in the wrong hands.

In what turned out to be the biggest margin in the survey, 95% of readers said they thought that Bank of America should provide free monthly credit checks to all federal workers affected. 3% said they were not sure and 2% said that BoA should not provide free monthly credit checks.

When asked where they thought they thought the missing tapes could be (since the company responsible apparently had no idea), 47% said they weren’t sure. 26% said they were stolen by a baggage screener, as some Senate staffers had suggested. 8% indicated the tapes were buried next to legendary union leader Jimmy Hoffa while 4% said the tapes were lying in a ditch on the side of the road. 2% believed that the tapes were in a landfill as a company spokesperson had suggested, while 13% of readers felt the tapes were somewhere else not mentioned.

Lastly, readers were very strongly opinionated when asked whether they thought federal government employees should be required to provide their personal credit history and financial information to be able to secure a credit card authorized only for official government usage. 83% said no, compared to only 11% who said yes. 6% said they were not sure.

If Bank of America officials were looking for suggestions (they’re not) on what the company should do to assist federal workers impacted by the lost data, they should look no further than the opinions shared from participants in the FedSmith.com survey.

A compliance specialist with the Department of Labor in Washington D.C. wrote:

“Bank of America should be held accountable. If fact they should be given a serious fine. If the shoe were on the other foot, you can bet that BoA would charge a penalty.”

A loan specialist with the USDA in South Carolina opined: “I want to know who was responsible for these tapes and who had them last. I can’t believe that BoA has no way of tracking them. I find it hard to swallow that these tapes are buried in a landfill.”

And a wildlife biologist with USDA in Wyoming wrote what seemed to be the sentiment of a large number of readers: “Bank of America’s contract with the U.S. government should be terminated immediately.”

An electronics technician from the Department of Defense in San Diego said “I never wanted that card to begin with! I have a cash-back AMEX card that I am forbidden to use per the Government Card Program agreement. Bank of America claims my information was not on the tapes, but that is scant reassurance.”

Two anonymous readers questioned the requirement to use the cards. “Eliminate the requirement for us to use the cards in the first place” wrote one, while another said “I believe the Government is trying to avoid it’s liability on this issue by not addressing protections for the affected employees. If this contractor cannot protect the information, why are they still holding the contract? This information could have been sold to anyone, including terrorists!”

A communications specialist with the IRS in Denver wrote: “I think the tapes were inadvertently erased by a worker who is afraid to admit his guilt. There is so much data about everyone available today on the Web, people should not fear anyone knowing about them unless they have something to hide. For example, put your home phone number into Google.com. Most likely it will show your address and map to that address. ‘Big Brother’ is HERE!”

Another reader from Washington suggested suing the company responsible.

“Let’s file a class action lawsuit against the company who “lost” the info and so cavalierly apologizes and tells us it’s our responsibility now to cull through our records constantly to prevent theft.”

A contract specialist in Washington D.C. said: “If this was done by government workers, we would be in the basement sharpening pencils for the rest of our career.”

And, finally, a tech lead with DCMA issued a warning: “When the disclosure comes months later, how safe are the rest of us?”

Thanks to all of our readers who took the time to send in their opinions and comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47