Dormitory Authority hunts missing ID tapes

December 20, 2007

By Rick Karlin, Capitol Bureau

Data tapes containing Social Security numbers, phone numbers and addresses for up to 800 current and former employees of the state Dormitory Authority, many of whom live in the Capital Region, are missing.

Employees of the agency, which funds and oversees construction of college dorms and other capital projects, were informed of the missing tapes on Wednesday via an e-mail that also offered advice on how to learn about identity theft precautions.

"UPS is investigating it at their end. We are investigating it to the extent that we can on our end," said authority spokesman Marc Violette.

The agency, he explained, sends a package of the tapes, which are kept as backups, to the New York City office each evening. They include time sheet information as well as records for some of the 3,000 vendors the agency deals with. Employees at the authority's Penn Plaza office in Manhattan discovered the envelope was damaged and open and the tapes were not inside. They started a trace, but by Wednesday they concluded the tapes were missing.

Violette said officials as of Wednesday had no reason to believe the tapes were stolen, and the envelope may have simply been damaged during what is typically one of the busiest shipping days of the year.

Violette said he didn't believe the tapes were encrypted, but stressed they are in cassettelike containers that require special equipment and software in order to be read.

"You can't really do anything with this on your laptop or home PC," Violette said.

The tapes contain records for people hired before Jan. 1, 2006. Those hired after that date are tracked on a different system.

The Dormitory Authority employs about 370 people in Albany, 180 in New York City, 20 in Buffalo and 100 at other locations across the state, Violette said. It wasn't immediately clear why the tapes also included data from retirees, or former employees, or where they reside.

Hiring and termination dates also are on the tapes.

This isn't the first time a set of state tapes with Social Security numbers has vanished.

In June 2006, tapes with similar data on 1,300 state workers from a variety of agencies disappeared as they were being transported between the state's Harriman campus in Albany to the comptroller's data center in Rensselaer.

Violette said officials from the Dormitory Authority alerted the attorney general and the Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination as well as the Consumer Protection Board.

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