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Census Bureau Loses Hundreds of Laptops 203

Posted by Zonk
from the i-could-use-a-few dept.
Billosaur writes "According to CNN, The U.S. Commerce Department has lost 1,137 laptop computers since 2001, most of them assigned to the Census Bureau. According to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, 'All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information.' This comes after the fiasco involving the Veteran's Affairs Department's loss and eventual recovery of a laptop containing 26.5 million veteran and active-duty records." Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected or is this an example of poor government security standards?
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Census Bureau Loses Hundreds of Laptops

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  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:36AM (#16161014) Homepage
    Don't consider them as "lost resources"; consider them a "job perk"...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Seriously, I'm sure the vast majority were just census takers who never returned them, and, hey, nobody ever came and got it!
      • Re:Heh. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Otter (3800) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:48AM (#16161130) Journal
        Given that 1) they have a massive short-term workforce of census takers and 2) I doubt they were giving them 1999's highest-end hardware, I can't get too worked up about this. What would the government do with a slightly higher stack of Pentium 120s, build a bigger Beowulf cluster? As long as there was no privacy violation, this doesn't sound like such a bad loss rate for such a huge project.
        • by treeves (963993)
          Insightful but jaded.
          It's not just a security issue, it's a waste of resources. And it probably represents just the tip of an iceberg that we happen to be able to see.
          Over the last five years, let's estimate the average price of a not-so-high-end laptop (let's be optimistic and assume they were being frugal) was $1000. This represents a loss of well over a million dollars - just in the hardware - not to mention the data, labor for replacement, etc. And parent thinks it's no big deal, something to be expe
      • by compro01 (777531)
        i would definitely say that is a distinct possibility. actually, i would say that is the most probable (not to mention least worrying) version of what would have happened to the laptops.
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot@kadin.xoxy@net> on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:47AM (#16161115) Homepage Journal
      I think that a big part of the problem is that Federal employees can't really be punished, unless they're grossly negligent.

      In terms of job security, it's just below being a pedophile priest; most of the time if you fuck up, you might get demoted or shuffled around ("I see there's a warehouse in Sioux Falls that needs a manager...") but probably not actually thrown out on your ass by Security.

      IMO, this leads to all sort of laziness and a general lackadaisical attitude on the part of a great many USG employees -- not all of them, to be sure, but it seems like there are usually 4 bags of useless skin for every one person who's pulling the weight of 5 people. It's about the only place I've ever seen that could honestly look to gigantic multinational corporations for advice on how to be more efficient. Total sausage factory, in other words.

      The laptop losses don't really surprise me, because I doubt these people get more than some sort of administrative demerit -- if that -- for losing one. I'm sure there's some sort of procedure that they go through, but I'm willing to bet that in the long run they just get a new machine issued and they go on, grinding their way towards retirement.

      If you want to stop these losses, I have a plan: tell people that they get one laptop. If they lose it, they can try to do their job without one, and if they can't do it, then they can find a new job somewhere else. Like the private sector. Maybe McDonalds. Or if you can't tolerate being that extreme, just make any loss of a laptop come with an automatic demotion of one Government Service grade. There's nothing like the fear of demotion to strike fear into the hearts of bureaucrats.
      • by garcia (6573) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:57AM (#16161207) Homepage
        IMO, this leads to all sort of laziness and a general lackadaisical attitude on the part of a great many USG employees -- not all of them, to be sure, but it seems like there are usually 4 bags of useless skin for every one person who's pulling the weight of 5 people.

        Sounds like just about every place I've worked. You have the office wanderer (the employee that is never in their office and you know you can find them in one of the offices of), the office chatterbox (the person that is always talking to someone on personal business), the office lazyass (the person who is in iTunes Store, surfing CNN, or printing some 100 page PDF on the schematics for their MAME arcade box instead of doing their jobs), and finally you have the office whiner (the person who doesn't do anything except complain to everyone (the chatterbox and wanderer especially) about how busy they are).

        Then you have the people, like me, that do their jobs and go the fuck home w/o talking to anyone. We are considered the "anti-social assholes" because we get our work done, on time with praise, and make all the other douchebags look bad.

        Yes, this is mostly a joke. Mod appropriately ;)
        • by CokeBear (16811) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:11PM (#16161323) Journal
          What about that category of people what complain about all the others on Slashdot when they should be doing work?
        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Mullen (14656)
          Then you have the people, like me, that do their jobs and go the fuck home w/o talking to anyone. We are considered the "anti-social assholes" because we get our work done, on time with praise, and make all the other douchebags look bad.

          Actually, you are just the office Douchebag. Your co-workers don't care how much you work. You are quite, you are an asshole and you are not liked much.

          Welcome to my world.
        • by VAXcat (674775)
          You forgot the legions of sports people, who only come to work so they can talk to the other sports people about sports...all day long, day after day, every day...
        • by Cecil (37810)
          Some days, I am the anti-social asshole.

          Other days, I am most certainly the office lazyass.

          So these aren't always fixed roles, but they sure are true on a day-to-day basis.

          by the way, guess which I am today! *cough*
        • by Gilmoure (18428) on Friday September 22, 2006 @01:24PM (#16161842) Journal
          Bingo! All I want to do is sit in my cube, take my calls, keep up with email and alerts and then go home. I don't want to escort the uncleared so they can sit on their ass 6 times a day and suck on a cig, I don't want to wander half-way across campus to hit the good snack machine or over priced grill and I sure as hell don't want some mouth breather hanging around my cube talking about millionaires playing with a ball. So yeah, I'm the unpleasant asshole that no one likes, who dresses weird (messy long hair, scraggly beard, Ornery Boy [orneryboy.com] shirt (in a button down only shirt office)) and always beat everyone else's stats by 30%-50% every month. Feh.
        • I'm a lazyass (Score:3, Interesting)

          by The Raven (30575)
          I'm a lazy bastard. Luckily, my primary job is technical support, which I do extremely well, happily, and without complaint (yes, I enjoy Internet Technical Support, no I'm not delusional or ill). So, between calls, I slack.

          We used to have the office 'anti-social asshole' who did his job well and without complaint, but he got fired. We still have the office whiner (our highly unqualified, also lazy, network admin). And we have a few other more middle-of-the-road average guys mostly do their work, mostly don
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by philwx (789834)
        Couldn't have said it better myself. Having been in the military, going to the Navy Exchange (this is the equivalent of Px, just a store on base), you would get in line to find a frowning checkout clerk, basically you've inconvenienced them by coming to their register. That's just the tip of it, most of the administrative services run by civilians for the military are much, much worse. I called one (forget the name of it) regarding a movement of personal belongings to another state and her attitude was a
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by boristdog (133725)
        I worked for the federal govt for 6 years. The parent post is very true.

        You are encouraged to toe the line, come in on time, leave on time...and not much else. If you do a good job you are "rewarded" by being kept in that position, because they need someone who can do the work. If you screw up, the only way they can get rid of you is by promotion.

        Still, the efforts of the 20-25% who know what they are doing keeps the government working. Most of them stay for the security and benefits. I still have frie
        • by geekoid (135745)
          I see the process of people getting removed from a government postition.
          Personally, I got very tired of the private sector. People being removed for political reason, whole departments getting slashed so the numbers looked good to prospective buyers, people being let go because they make more then X dollars, being lied to, benefits vanishing, working 70 hours weeks and finding out that everyone must get an 'average' on their revue regardless of the work done, do 80% of the work, but not getting promoted bec
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fragmentate (908035) *

        I worked for the Department of Health Services. Obviously they have data that is ultra-sensitive since it involves classifications of all disorders (including HIV, AIDS, mental). When people "lost" laptops they weren't even given so much as a slap on the wrist. They had certain vaguely numbered forms to fill out (for insurance purposes), and then some requisitions for a new laptop to be ordered. What was obvious to me was ignored by them. These people hadn't lost anything at all. They simply got a fr

        • by geekoid (135745)
          My experience as a government employee is just the opposite.
          I am very busy, and I have written code and implemented systems for people who care about the publics money and work hard.

          I haven't seen anyone in my department not care and not do there job well.

          Assuming your phoning home software story is true, I find it interesting that your company would take that kind of liability risk.

          A woman keeping a job for 6 weeks is not an example of government ineffiency.

          It could be that she wants to change and keep a j
          • Based on my experience working closely with people in the USG, it's people like you that really keep the whole thing afloat ... however, for every one person like you, there are probably 3 to 5 people just sitting around, sucking down salary dollars and filling out mindless paperwork until they can retire.

            I don't think anyone would say that all government employees are total idiots; that's obviously untrue -- if it was, nothing would get done. And no matter how little you like the government, it does get st
          • My experience as a government employee is just the opposite. I am very busy, and I have written code and implemented systems for people who care about the publics money and work hard.

            I also worked very hard, as did many of the people on my team. But I realized early on that the work I was doing was "make work." I'm a software engineer that was sorting text files, and removing "outdated" comments from SQR (SQRibe) files. I was clearly not doing "engineer" level work. I resigned because it wasn't rewa

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          The difference here is that if you lose a laptop you don't get a new one "just like that." Every laptop has special tools that "phone home" if they're connected to the internet. If, and only if, after 6 months, they get no response from this laptop do you get a new laptop issued.

          Just out of curiousity, what do your employees do for 6 months without a laptop? Do they get a note from their manager saying their work was all late because the dog ate their laptop?

          What if they get a hit from it, but they can't t

          • They learn to do their work on their desktop machines. It's not really that complicated.

            They (or their direct manager) had to make a case for needing the laptop. It is explained to them that they are wholly responsible for that laptop. The fact of the matter is we're strict on the issuance of laptops because we know the truth about laptop use. Out of 122 laptops issued only 16 of those have EVER been utilized out of the office. The loss of laptops here in 2 years? Five. But only three of those cou

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              They learn to do their work on their desktop machines. It's not really that complicated.

              They (or their direct manager) had to make a case for needing the laptop.

              Ah, I see the difference. At my company, everyone gets a laptop by default. You have to try harder to get a desktop unless you're a developer or something.

              In our company, your laptop is frequently your only machine. So if you were to lose it, you wouldn't have anything to work on. I guess if laptops are the exception rather than the rule, it wou

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sumdumass (711423)
        The government is sort of a funny thing. In one hand they will throw money around and waist it like it wasn't theirs in the first place. In the other hand they are so tight with the money you would think if you shoved coal in thier asses, diamonds would protrude the next day. Why is this important? Well, I'm willing to bet that quite a few of the lost laptops are 4 or more years old when they were lost.

        Why does the age of the laptop matter? Because the story sets this up as the census bureau lost the majori
      • I know I'm feeding a troll, but I can't help it. Good troll!

        ...Federal employees can't really be punished,...if you fuck up, you might get demoted or shuffled around ("I see there's a warehouse in Sioux Falls that needs a manager...") but probably not actually thrown out on your ass by Security...

        Bullshit. There's less of people getting "thrown out on your ass by Security" in government service for lots of reasons, the main one being you can't get thrown out just because you pissed off your big boss and

    • by coolgeek (140561)
      Absolutely this is a case of employee theft. I think we should be writing our congressmen demanding an investigation, no way those bastards should get away with taking a perk at our expense.
    • by Mr Pippin (659094)
      Hmmm, how many were "stolen" by the TSA goons? Is it still considered "lost" and/or "stolen" if the government steals property from itself?
    • I'd like to know if there was a proper argument made such that they needed to haul around sensitive information on their person. In the VA situation, why a computer needed to have the entire database of veterans is beyond me. I don't know what type of jobs in the Census Bureau need a notebook computer, I can imagine that some of these employees don't.
  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:38AM (#16161035) Homepage
    'All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information.'

    I would like to know what kind of protection is being used. Is it just password protecting windows? encrypted hard drives? This kind of blanket statement doesn't really tell me much about how safe the census data really is.
  • all those thinkpads i keep finding at the local used computer store and how nice of condition they're in!

    Sheesh, I hope I haven't ever acquired one accidenatlly ...
  • by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:39AM (#16161047)
    Maybe they should spend less time counting people and more time counting their computers. Or perhaps we should have a US Census Bureau's Computers Census Bureau. In any case, that sounds like an awful big loss of taxpayer computers, not to mention the data and the costs inherent in duplicating lost information.
    • You've actually hit very close to the truth. From TFA:

      More than 30,000 laptops were used within the department's 15 operating units since 2001, the department said, and a total of 1,137 were stolen or missing.

      I help with the computer inventory of a major agency. If at any time you took a snapshot of our inventory database, then sampled it, you'd find a distressingly large number of computers missing. Most of them aren't gone, they're just mislaid. They got taken off the network and put on a shelf in

  • by OakDragon (885217) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:39AM (#16161051) Journal

    I'll bet this is a direct result of their "Fill in our survey, get a FREE laptop!" promotion during the last census.

  • by joe 155 (937621)
    Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected or is this an example of poor government security standards?

    Yes, the standards are poor, but not as bad as it could be because at least it contains a protection on the data and it seems that no one has used it yet. But this isn't enough, because no matter what you have someone can break it. They should institute a policy of witholding some pay from empolyees as a form of fine whenever they lose a laptop. $1000 would be enough of an in
    • by Aladrin (926209)
      If they are that careless, no amount of fine would stop them from 'leaving it in a coffee shop'. I'm pretty sure it's legal to charge them like that, if told beforehand, but it doesn't sound very ethical. $1000 could cause someone to lose their car or house if it happens at the wrong time.

      No, there are other ways to penalize them that are both legal and ethical. Reduced raise at next review, demotion, termination... A good stern talking-to.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Based on those numbers the standards are good. 5% loss of laptops is considered good in the industry.

      "They should institute a policy of witholding some pay from empolyees as a form of fine whenever they lose a laptop. $1000 would be enough of an incentive to make sure that they stopped leaving them in coffee shops."

      First of all, you seem to think they were lost in this manner as a matter of course.
      What about robbery?

      Second, you can not put a fine on something and have people suddenly not be careless. It hap
    • by ePhil_One (634771)
      But this isn't enough, because no matter what you have someone can break it.

      Which implies the goal of the computer theft is the data on it. Almost always, computer theft's target is the hardware, with the intent to resell. If its easiest for the criminal to activate the laptops "restore to factory condition", thats what he'll do rather than spend a day (or weeks or months) trying to access protected info. If the real goal was the data, you would swipe it from the coffee shop, clone the disk, the turn it

  • by imboboage0 (876812) <imboboage0@gmail.com> on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:40AM (#16161067) Homepage
    The U.S. Commerce Department has lost 1,137 laptop computers since 2001, most of them assigned to the Census Bureau.
    Am I the only one who read this as 1337 laptops?
  • by hodet (620484) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:41AM (#16161068)
    From TFA:

    "All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information," said Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez. "The amount of missing computers is high, but fortunately, the vulnerability for data misuse is low."

    Ya, OK, I know I feel better. My bet is that they all had some kind of encryption software installed on them that very little to none of the users actually use.
    • by hackstraw (262471) *

      This kinda reminds me of the other many stories where rogue terrorists invaded the locked server rooms and stole their RAID arrays.

      Oh, that was a dream, I never heard of that.

      WTF are people thinking about having important data on a laptop? It may of been another dream, but I heard of laptop harddrives dying, being ran over by cars, falling off the top of cars, taxis, or whatever. Laptops are in no way shape or form a reliable place to store data. In my server room, I have RAID arrays that are backed up t
      • by hodet (620484)
        The only way they will get clue is if the situation becomes an embarassement. That's the way government works. Just the fact that a high ranking public servant had to explain will stir the pot somewhat. Right now they are in damage control mode. Now they will wait and see if the story subsides. If it does they will note that this method was successful for keeping things calm. If the shit really hits the fan then high level committees will be struck to discuss the issue and attack the problem. The pro
      • I can confirm that happened as hearing it from another SA. Not they were terrorists, but that someone got into a "secure" CIVILIAN datacenter and stole disks for the data.

        They posed as "Repair" personnel from the vendor and swapped out half of a 0+1 raidset. They could easily retrieve the data. Note that they new which storage arrays to go after and where they were indicates some serious breach of security. Either an inside job or a hell of a casing.

        I can say that the data was not something that should be i
        • I can confirm this happened, too. I read a guys blog, and he said that he heard it was done by Osama bin Ladin.
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:47AM (#16161120) Homepage Journal
    5% shrinkage per year is considered doing a good job when it comes to managing laptop losses.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pointbeing (701902)

      5% shrinkage per year is considered doing a good job when it comes to managing laptop losses.

      Considered a good job by whom? I work for an agency under Department of Defense, supporting about 3,000 users. We've lost three laptops in the last five years, two of them by the same contract employee. That employee no longer works here.

      I can't speak for Commerce but DoD requires FIPS 140-2 encryption of data at rest on mobile devices. We redirect mobile user's My Documents folder to a network share, turn o

      • Do your 3000 users leave the office every day and travel to unfamiliar neighborhoods where they fan out to canvas every house? Do they do this after 3 weeks training for a temporary job lasting 3-9 months? If you lost 3 laptops with classified data from a secured DoD facility, then YOU have the unacceptable loss percentage, and should avoid tossing stones at an agency with an entirely different and uniquely challenging set of circumstances, hey or not! Live and let bitch, as I always say.

        Philosophical Jo
        • Nobody said the three lost laptops contained classified data and nobody said they were in a secured facility - classified laptops don't leave the security vault where they're stored. *All* the users issued laptops work at least one day a week from home - they transport their laptops all the time. The users fly on airplanes and stay in hotel rooms.

          Uniquely challenging set of circumstances? How much training to you have to have to learn to not leave a laptop unsecured?
          • So what you are saying is that I've criticized you without having a full grasp of the conditions that you do your job? Right, sorry about that. :)
            • So what you are saying is that I've criticized you without having a full grasp of the conditions that you do your job? Right, sorry about that. :)

              Touché ;-)

              That's still a lot of missing laptops, though.

          • by Shimmer (3036)
            Classified laptops don't leave the security vault where they're stored

            Come again? What's the point of a laptop that's tied to a specific location? Buying a laptop when a desktop machine would suffice is a complete waste of money.
            • Come again? What's the point of a laptop that's tied to a specific location? Buying a laptop when a desktop machine would suffice is a complete waste of money.

              It has to do with physical security - you can store a laptop in a high-security safe when you're not using it. It costs more than a desktop PC but less than hardening the building ;-)

    • It's only 1,137 out of 30,000, over a period of five years. That's an 0.75% loss rate, or less than one in a hundred per year.

      Moreover, it sounds like only a third had personal information on them. For all we know, two-thirds of these laptops may be 15 years old 286's, and sitting in a warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant.
  • by le0p (932717) *
    Is this a bad time?
  • Laptops will be lost or stolen there is not much you can do about it. If the security depends on these not being lost or stolen the policies need to be changed.
  • by mrroot (543673) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:52AM (#16161162)
    "According to CNN, The U.S. Commerce Department has lost 1,137 laptop computers since 2001"

    Are they sure? Maybe they miscounted...

    bada-bing!

    OK, sorry about that.
  • by Malfourmed (633699) on Friday September 22, 2006 @11:58AM (#16161218) Homepage
    From the article:
    More than 30,000 laptops were used within the department's 15 operating units since 2001, the department said, and a total of 1,137 were stolen or missing.

    Let's assume that at any given time there were about 20,000 laptops in use at the Commerce Dept in the five years since 2001. (30K laptops were used in that period, but some would have been swapped out during that time.)

    1,137 missing over this period is a bit over 200 per year, or about 1% attrition per year.

    Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected?

    I'd say yes. We're talking mobile pieces of equipment, easily hidden in a suitcase or even in coat these days.

    The level of data compromise, as opposed to physical asset loss, is another matter, but then the article doesn't quantify that.
    • by TilJ (7607)
      Exactly. This discussion should be about any compromised data, not lost physical assets with a retail value quickly approaching the "disposable asset" level.

      The fact that they even know the laptops are missing shows that they have better asset inventory control and reporting than many organizations I've worked with. If they also inventory sensitive data and can tell you if any (and what type) was on the laptop, they're another step up. At that point, it's fairly simple to ensure that the ensure is strongly
    • The other issue to recall is that Census hires hundreds or thousands of contractors nationwide to actually carry out Census Bureau surveys (which are often conducted on behalf of, and paid for by, other government agencies). I once did a housing survey for Census that was actually being used by HUD. The reason for this is that Census has the skill and experience in doing large-scale surveys that other agencies don't have; it is a more effective use of resources to let the experts do their thing than reinv
  • Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected or is this an example of poor government security standards?

    How many laptops does the Department of Commerce have, total? What percentage of these were lost or stolen over the past five years? What percentage of laptops owned by other government agencies were lost or stolen during the same time period? What percentage of laptops owned by a private company (say, for example, WalMart) were lost or stolen during the same time period? If 1,13
  • I know the lost information is the real story, but as far as taxpayer's dollars being wasted/lost - 1100 ThinkPads is about $2M dollars. The federal government's "burn rate" is about $4.2M per minute (based on a 2.25 trillion annual budget, which was the 2005 outlays), so this constitutes less than 30 seconds of spending.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:01PM (#16161242) Homepage
    I was going to stay

    1) Use a MacBookPro

    2) Turn on FileVault

    3) Problem solved.

    But it appears as if there's an equally effective solution in Windows:

    kb 307877 [microsoft.com] simply Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, and then click Windows Explorer, locate the file that you want, right-click the file, and then click Properties, on the General tab, click Advanced, Under Compress or Encrypt attributes, select the Encrypt contents to secure data check box, and then click OK If the file is located in an unencrypted folder, you receive an Encryption Warning dialog box. Use one of the following steps: If you want to encrypt only the file, click Encrypt the file only, and then click OK. If you want to encrypt the file and the folder in which it is located, click Encrypt the file and the parent folder, and then click OK.

    (yesyesyes, if you detailed the procedure for enabling FileVault it would be nearly as long).

    But, I'm 100% serious about this, why don't both Microsoft and Windows enable file encryption by default?

    (Full disclosure. Do I use FileVault? No. Why not? Well, to tell the truth, I'm worried about bugs and glitches. There is safety in numbers. If Macs had FileVault enabled by default, then any bugs in it would cause problems for millions of users, and Apple would find out and fix them quickly. As it is, I suspect about 0.01% of all Mac users use it, and I've felt for a long time that one of the keys to avoiding OS trouble is to stay in the mainstream and avoid using anything that lots of people aren't using--unless I have a good reason).
    • by Sancho (17056)
      Performance is probably a big reason that it isn't enabled by default. It might not be a huge deal on workstations or desktops where there is no gaming, but for gaming machines, you want faster load times, and on laptops with slower hard drives, the effect of EFS is going to be noticeable.

      I used file encryption for awhile, but the speed issues really turned me off of it. It also reduced my notebook's 'unplugged time' by quite a bit. I'd guess that these issues are a really good reason to turn this off by
  • No big deal (Score:3, Informative)

    by T5 (308759) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:05PM (#16161273)
    I know this sounds bad, potentially losing census data and all, but as a recipient of several of the computers used in the 2000 census (essentially hand-me-downs when they were done with the census to other Department of Commerce offices), there wasn't any personally identifiable information on the machines when we got. No laptops were in our transfer, but the desktops and servers were clean. We were asked to make sure that the hard drives had been wiped. All of the ones that came to us were.

    I'm willing to bet that the number of "lost" machines is really much lower than the report stated. I just looked at our inventory and changes we submitted over the last couple of years (dead machines especially that need to be removed from inventory) haven't been made in the master lists yet. I'd chalk this up to carelessness with the inventory database more than carelessness about actual machine loss. After all, we're talking about 5-7 year old laptops. Who's really using those old boxes anyway?
  • Something like this should never be expected. That's the exact opposite. We should expect that our information be kept private and locked up somwhere.....of course this is the gov't and they have their own rules...
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:09PM (#16161303)
    For a while governement employees were making all kinds of dubious charge to their work credit cards. Expecially in the Katrina cleanup when limits were loosened.

    My company directly reimburses the credit company, but only for "approved" expenses. Sometimes things are not approved and the employee must pay it then.
  • by keyne9 (567528)
    Government needs to spend less time worrying about it's citizens [slashdot.org] and more time making sure its employees do their fucking jobs.
  • 1100 laptops is a large number

    I don't think the census bureau can really be expected to handle that many of anything.
  • by ubrgeek (679399) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:12PM (#16161336)
    "All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information." - Each was given a Dell or Sony battery ...
  • What does anyone, EVER put important (especially sentitive) data on a laptop? Do you have a locked and secure server room? Perhaps it should go there....

    Sheesh.

    Finkployd
  • by Spazmania (174582) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:36PM (#16161511) Homepage
    I used to work at the Census Bureau. I didn't see anything like this in the IT groups -- they were pretty sharp. More likely this is a recordkeeping problem at Commerce where obsolete laptops were returned, properly disposed of and recorded correctly at the Census bureau but the knowledge didn't make it in to DOC records. It wouldn't be the first time.

    Of course, this is a mildly uninformed opinion. I haven't worked at Census for a while and I had nothing to do with laptops when I did. I'm just saying there's something fishy with the notion that Census lost a thousand laptops. I don't buy it.

    Besides, excluding the decennial survey-takers (temporary employees during the decennial census) there aren't than many people at the census bureau with government-issued laptops. Everyone would have had to disappear one laptop and some folks would have had to disappear two.

  • TIA was "abolished"

    TIA's biggest hurdle was a lack of data due to public outcry

    Anyone think that these "losses" might be a cover for covertly putting untold millions of records into the hands of the groups working on these spying projects?
  • by Lurker187 (127055) on Friday September 22, 2006 @12:37PM (#16161517)
    I'm more concerned about the "nearly 250 from the Census Bureau containing such personal information as names, incomes and Social Security numbers" [washingtonpost.com]. I heard a sound bite about it from the Commerce Dept. statement this morning, they said not to worry, the data is, and I quote, "password protected".

    Yeah, that's real comforting [slashdot.org].
  • The government loses computers all the time.
    VA Contractor Loses Computer Containing Personal Data [consumeraffairs.com]
    August 7, 2006
    A government contractor hired by the Veterans Administration (VA) to help process insurance claims announced that a desktop computer containing information on as many as 38,000 veterans had disappeared from its home office.

    Energy Department lost computer equipment [gcn.com]
    At least 18 pieces of "computer processing equipment," including at least one laptop, are missing from the Energy Department's Office of
    • by geekoid (135745)
      So do private companies.

      Of course private companies don't have to report it, so clearly they must not have this issue.
      sigh.
  • We should probably find an appropriate federal government agency and assign them to keep a regular count of how many Census Bureau laptops have been lost using some sort of mandatory survey, plus provide periodic analysis of the demographics of the laptop users and ...

    Oh wait. Never mind.

  • Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected or is this an example of poor government security standards?

    I sure hope you're only kidding and this is onyl a rhetorical question. Losses to be expected ? Is this a war ? One should really "expect" his data to be stolen ? One should easily just "forgive" state/government security policy weaknesses ? And we should just believe their word when they say all of those laptops contained data protection measures ? Oh come on.
  • ... that is the exact number of missing laptops?

    - Andrew
  • by Yvanhoe (564877)
    All of the equipment that was lost or stolen contained protections to prevent a breach of personal information.

    Like what ? a BIOS password ? A prosecution warning ? or was it really something serious like encryption that can't be broken in a few days ?

  • Most other departments would have reported the loss of "over 1,000" laptops. At least we can count on the USCB to know just how many grew legs.

    But what was their average age? And how many laptops filled out the Race and Ethnicity section? Are the Toshibas worried about racial profiling?
  • Given the scope of the operation, are these losses to be expected or is this an example of poor government security standards?

    Yes.

    There's really nothing about any of this that denotes a requirement for these two conditions to be mutually exclusive. In fact, both statements clearly can be — and actually are — quite true, and it's probable that a causal relationship exists between the latter and the former. Most US government agencies are not known for being paragons of efficiency; the larger th

    • by geekoid (135745)
      most Government agency are more efficient then the private sector.
      Look at the financial records for you local government and see how close they where to there budget.
      Then compare that to the private industry.

      I am a recent government employees, and after 20+ years in the private sector, I am amazed at how well the government works by comparison.

      Yes, there are problems, but they are not nearly as bad as people want to think.
      • most Government agency are more efficient then the private sector.

        Having worked with various municipal, state, and federal government agencies on numerous projects, I simply don't share your opinion on the matter. In my experience, a relative few are efficiently run, and as they get larger in size and scope of responsibility, the probability that they're more likely to get mired in bureaucratic muck grows asymptotically.

  • ...

    Oh do the math and figure it out!
  • The last time we had a census, I filled out how many people lived in the house, and nothing else. The form was *very* intrusive, asking all sorts of demographic and lifestyle questions.

    Weeks later, a census worker showed up at my front door. Instead of having her with fava beans and a nice chianti, I simply refused to answer her questions about household income, number of bathrooms, races of people living in the house, etc. When she mentioned a possible fine for non-compliance, I quoted the census part o

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