Data about 139 officers left on donated computer

May 1, 2007

By Steve Bauer

Names and Social Security numbers for 139 Champaign police officers were left on a computer donated to charity.

The city notified those in the database that their personal information may have been unintentionally released, but city staff members do not believe the data was compromised, according to Information Technologies Director Fred Halenar.

A computer from the police department contained the data, he said.

Last year, the city donated 50 computers. Of those, five were donated to the Champaign Consortium, including the one in question. Halenar said the concern was, "Even though we don't think (the personal information) was compromised, we still must take measures to see it doesn't happen again.

"There were five computers, but this was the only one that had a problem," Halenar said.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said Monday that the problem surfaced April 20, when the city's Information Technologies Department got a call from Simplified Computers that a computer brought in contained the data.

It should have been erased when the computer hard drive was cleaned, but, somehow, was not, in this instance, Carter said. The city is investigating how the normal cleaning process failed to occur, and to see what needs to be done to make sure it doesn't happen again, he said.

"In this case, the computer wasn't cleaned properly," Carter said. "The person who had (the computer) wasn't able to use the computer, so there probably wasn't any personal information disclosed.

"This is the first time with anything like this for the city," Carter said. "This is an unusual case. For most of our computers, there wouldn't be anything like that (data)."

According to a city memo, Carter advised city council members that the personal information of the 139 current and former police officers was released to a member of the public.

The background he gave council members indicates a representative of Simplified Computers called the city to report that a customer had come to his company to fix a computer that had given a prompt looking for a user code and password to log onto the city's computer network, the memo said.

The Simplified Computers technician was able to learn that there was sensitive information on the computer and recognized some of the names as being police officers. Police staff were able to verify that the information contained Social Security numbers and asked the company to contact information technology, according to the memo.

The city's staff took the hard drive from the computer and checked inventories and other information to determine where the computer had been and how the customer had obtained it.

Their investigation showed the computer was replaced at the police department and had become part of a pool of computers donated to local charities, the memo said.

The particular computer belonged to a city staff member who is the Illinois Wireless Information Network coordinator and used the files to track network users. Social Security numbers were, until recently, one of the required data elements, the memo said. The statewide network provides wireless communications services to state and local public safety agencies.

The computer was donated to the Champaign Consortium, an area not-for-profit job assistance center on North Mattis Avenue in Champaign which conducts classes and provides computers to clients.

The person receiving the computer was unable to guess the needed log-in information, and apparently went to Simplified Computers for repair.

The city has contacted the Champaign Consortium to see if it has other former city computers, and, if so, to make sure that those units do not have the same problem. The city staff also is analyzing the computer in question to see if any other sensitive data was on the hard drive.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents city police officers, could not be reached for comment.

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