9 years of La. applicants' data lost

October 17, 2007

Associated Press


Sensitive data for virtually all Louisiana college applicants and their parents over the past nine years were in a case lost last month during a move, officials said.

The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance was advised to not say how many records were involved and the media format in which they were stored, Executive Director Melanie Amrhein said Wednesday. The state Attorney General's Office is investigating the loss.

The lost case held backup data for every Louisiana application for federal student aid . just about anyone who applied to college . from 1998 through Sept. 13 of this year, Amrhein (AM-rine) said. It also involved anyone who had a college savings account under the START Saving Program or who applied for the TOPS scholarship program in those years.

The data included Social Security numbers for applicants and their parents; the bank account information for START account holders also was involved.

Sophisticated equipment and knowledge would be required to access the data. Amrhein said disclosing more information about the lost case and its contents won't help someone access the data, but could help someone realize its significance.

The case was lost Sept. 19 when a driver for a Boston-based contractor failed to follow company procedures when loading it onto his vehicle, according to a statement e-mailed Wednesday by Laura Sudnik, spokeswoman for Iron Mountain Inc.

"Our entire business is built around high security and reliability and we regret that this employee error took place," the data-protection and storage company said.

The driver was fired. Sudnik said the man had worked five years for Iron Mountain and his work record had been in good standing. The loss of the case was an accident without malicious intent, Sudnik said.

The data was being moved from Iron Mountain's Port Allen storage building to Baton Rouge. Iron Mountain said it notified the state immediately of the problem, but Amrhein said the office waited until this week to discuss the loss publicly to allow time to find the case.

Colleges did not learn about the problem until Monday, said Jim McCoy, LSU vice provost for enrollment management. "We're working diligently today to find out exactly what this means," McCoy said.

The student aid office set up a telephone hotline and posted a notice on its web site with a link to a secure site where people can find out if their records were among those lost. It advised people affected to place fraud reports with credit agencies and for those whose bank accounts were affected, to change the accounts.

More than 60 college-related records breaches have occurred nationwide this year, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie said he was shocked by the large number of breaches. "The whole issue of identity protection is something everyone needs to be concerned about," Savoie said.

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