Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Federal Agency Loses Data on More Than Half a Million Student Loan Borrowers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Federal Agency Loses Data on More Than Half a Million Student Loan Borrowers

Article excerpt

Feds lose data on half a million people


OTTAWA - A federal agency has lost a portable hard drive containing personal information about more than half a million people who took out student loans -- prompting investigations by the RCMP and the national privacy watchdog.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said Friday the device contained data on 583,000 Canada Student Loans Program borrowers from 2000 to 2006.

The missing files include student names, social insurance numbers, dates of birth, contact information and loan balances of borrowers, as well as the personal contact information of 250 department employees.

Borrowers from Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories during this time period are not affected.

No banking or medical information was on the portable device.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said she has called on the RCMP to assist with the incident, "given its serious nature."

"I want all Canadians to know that I have expressed my disappointment to departmental officials at this unacceptable and avoidable incident in handling Canadians' personal information," she said in a statement.

In addition, the office of the federal privacy commissioner announced Friday it would investigate.

It is too early to gauge the magnitude of the lapse, said Scott Hutchinson, a spokesman for the privacy czar. "Given the numbers the department has shared, it looks, at the outset, to be pretty big."

Human Resources is sending letters to affected people, for whom it has current contact information, to advise them on how to protect their personal information.

A toll-free number has been set up at 1-866-885-1866 (or 1-416-572-1113 for those outside North America) to help people determine whether they are affected. It will begin taking calls Monday morning.

"It's definitely unfortunate," said Adam Awad, national chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students, which received a briefing on the loss.

"It highlights how easy it is for information in today's age to be misplaced, to be misappropriated, to be stolen -- if that's what the case was. …

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