Sensetive CHR Laptop Stolen

November 9, 2006

By Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun

Alberta's privacy watchdog is fast-tracking a probe into the theft from a private home of a Calgary Health Region laptop holding mental health data on hundreds of child patients.

On Oct. 22, the computer was taken in a break-in at the northwest home of a CHR Collaborative Mental Health staffer.

The laptop was carrying contact, mental health and parental data on 1,000 Calgary-area children up to six years of age.

Wayne Wood with the office of the information and privacy commissioner said the seriousness of the theft is being handled urgently.

"This investigation is being fast-tracked because of the sensitivity of the information contained on that laptop," he said.

The probe will determine how accessible the data might be to thieves, said Wood, and the wisdom of having the information in a private home.

"Is it an appropriate way to transport that kind of data and are the password enough to ensure it can.t be compromised?" he said.

The CHR promptly notified the privacy commissioner.s office following the theft, said Wood, adding the CHR should perhaps encrypt such information for greater security.

He also said patching laptops into a mainframe for the data would prevent having to dangerously transport it.

Such thefts, said Wood, are troublingly common.

"It seems just about every day in Canada we hear about a laptop with some kind of personal information goes missing," he said.

Police have determined the stolen computer's triple password security system means the mental health information is difficult to access, said Catherine Pryce, executive director of the CHR.s mental health and addictions services.

She also said the type of information itself is "fairly low-risk" though the incident is being taken very seriously.

The nature of the mental health staffers' work dictates they carry the laptops with them, said Pryce.

"They use the laptops to do business in the homes of their clients," she said.

The CHR, she said, has recalled their computers, which are being encrypted to foil hackers.

"There's no indication any of the information has been used," said Pryce.

The commissioner is expected to deliver a report, with recommendations, in about two weeks.

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