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Tuesday, December 10, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Laptops stolen in Olympia may have data on 2 million people

Computer laptops and hard drives stolen in burglaries in Olympia may contain personal information for at least 2 million people, prompting investigations by both Homeland Security and the U.S. Senate.

Computer equipment belonging to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department was among items stolen in a pair of burglaries on Feb. 7 and March 8 from an office building in Olympia. A suspect has been charged, but Olympia police said he told them he doesn’t know anything about the hard drives.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the Senate government affairs panel, asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell if the drives stolen from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement were ever recovered.

“It is unclear from the information HHS provided how many of those children’s records were compromised, and the potential risk to those children, despite a statutory requirement that you provide that information to Congress,” Johnson said in a letter obtained by the Associated Press.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement oversees child-support programs across the nation. The data breach would mark the latest case of personal information swiped from the federal government. Last year, the Office of Personnel Management said hackers stole data in an unprecedented breach of private data for millions of federal workers.

Documents filed in Thurston County Superior Court show that Nicholas W. Perring, 28, faces four counts of burglary and one of trafficking in stolen goods stemming from the two burglaries. Court documents quote police as saying Perring admitted to the burglaries; “however, he did not know anything about the hard drives.”

His bail was set at $10,000 and an arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.

The computers and hard drives were among items listed as stolen in the break-ins, but Olympia police didn’t know anything about the possible data breach until a detective was contacted by an agent from the Homeland Security Department, court documents said. The agent said the drives could contain between 2 million and 5 million individual profiles with names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and other personal information.

Homeland Security also had a list of current and former employees who worked at the building. One former employee, who had been fired for stealing, allegedly kept a copy of the building key. Perring is the former employee’s boyfriend, and both had pawned items that matched descriptions of things taken in the burglaries, the Olympian newspaper reported.

Johnson asked HHS Secretary Burwell what specific information was on the hard drives, when officials first became aware of the burglaries and if they’ll notify those whose data was stolen. He also said the Obama administration hasn’t provided enough answers on whether other data were stolen from HHS, which keeps national databases on child abuse and neglect.

An HHS spokeswoman acknowledged Monday that the stolen equipment may have contained personally identifiable information. The incident was a property theft and not an intrusion of federal networks, she said.

It was unclear if the drives were encrypted, which would make it harder for thieves to copy data. Last year’s Office of Personnel Management data breach, which was a computer hack, resulted in more than 21 million Social Security numbers and other information being compromised.

Staff writer Jim Camden and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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