There will be blood over stolen laptop

20 Feb 2008

It emerged last night that a laptop containing close to 175,000 patient records belonging to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service was stolen in New York.

The news comes within weeks of Labour TD Ruairi Quinn warning that data protection in Irish government departments needed better controls. He revealed nearly 100 notebook and desktop PCs have been lost or stolen from Irish government departments over the past five years, along with 14 BlackBerry smartphones and 11 portable media devices.

In recent weeks, Pat Moran of Ernst & Young’s Risk Advisory Services practice told that the prevalence of laptop theft was greater than public or private sectors organisations were reporting.

“Organisations in Ireland are losing laptops or having them stolen on a frequent basis. Not just laptops but information on USB keys, which I would be more worried about than laptops.

“Another problem is the fact that PCs which go out of commission after three years are being disposed of in a very loose manner. Data which may not be fully scrubbed from a hard drive could represent a major threat to organisations and personal security,” Moran said.

The laptop at the centre of the latest controversy was stolen from a worker at a New York blood bank who had been contracted to upgrade its software. The worker was reportedly mugged outside his home earlier this month and the laptop taken.

The laptop contains files which relate to 174,324 donor records and 3,294 patient blood group records made between July and October last year.

The donor records include details of names, addresses, dates of birth, gender, blood group and contact phone numbers.

It is understood the Irish Blood Transfusion Service will be writing to all donors concerned, warning that while the records on the stolen laptop were encrypted, there may be a remote chance that the data might be accessed by a third party.

The news comes within weeks of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service deciding to abandon the construction of a system to monitor the progress of blood products after €740,000 was spent on the project. An upgrade of the system following recent blood-related scandals would have cost the taxpayer €3.1m.

By John Kennedy