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Source: National Post

Posted on September 30, 2003

      Elinor Caplan, the Revenue Minister, has ordered a sweeping security review after four tax department computers were stolen containing confidential personal information of more than 120,000 Canadians.

      Government insiders say the Sept. 4 theft at Revenue Canada's offices in Laval, Que., is the "biggest loss" of personal information in Canadian history and included the SIN numbers of contractors and sub-contractors in the construction industry across the country.

      While no personal income tax information was on the computers, the stolen data did include names, dates of birth, home addresses and social insurance numbers.

      Officials say police fear it could be used to build new identities for criminals and bogus refugee claimants. It could also be sold on the black market to organized crime syndicates, or be used to fraudulently obtain credit cards, employment insurance, welfare or old age pensions. "It's a big loss of data, there is no doubt about it," an insider said. "This is probably the biggest data loss since identity theft became an issue."

      Ms. Caplan immediately called in the RCMP and ordered a review of all security measures at tax and customs offices across the country. Letters will also be sent out today informing the more than 120,000 Canadians of the theft and what steps are being taken to remedy the situation. She is expected to offer new social insurance numbers to those affected.

      Derik Hodgson, a spokesman for Ms. Caplan, refused to discuss the theft but said the Minister will make a statement today.

      Government insiders say they do not believe organized crime was behind the Sept. 4 incident, which is being attributed to human error. Only one of the four stolen computers had sensitive information, which was not protected by encryption. The small portable was a server and contained old databases with personal information on construction contractors and details involving Canada Pension Plan.

      Revenue Canada computers that act as servers do have encryption, but department policy requires them to be stored in high security rooms after hours. In this instance, the employee did not lock up the computer, which was taken in a "smash and grab" operation, according to officials.

      "It was put down to employee error. There was discipline taken and there was no thought that the employee was in any cahoots with the thieves," a source said. "It was most likely stolen for drug money. There was no suggestion of organized crime. These are old databases but there is enough concern that people could use them potentially to build a new identity. So that is the big worry, but the Minister has moved pretty quickly on it."

      Last week, it was revealed that the Revenue Canada taxation centre in Shawinigan, Que., sent confidential tax information on 49 people to the wrong address.

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