Navy secretary laments continued loss of private data

The Navy continues to wrestle with maintaining control of service members' personal information.

'Unfortunately, numerous naval messages, media attention and changes to policy have had only a limited impact on improving our handling and safeguarding of [personally identifiable information], and losses have continued,' Navy Secretary Donald Winter wrote in a July 7 message to all Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

Personally identifiable information includes names, Social Security numbers, biometric records and medical histories.

In the past 19 months, Navy officials reported more than 100 incidents of such information of being lost. Those incidents affected more than 200,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel, including retirees, civilians and dependents, according to Winter's message.

The cases involved lost or stolen laptop computers and thumb drives, material erroneously posted on Navy Web sites, stolen or misplaced documents, e-mail messages with attachments forwarded in error, and documents thrown away intact, the message reads.

'Our sailors, Marines and civilians entrust us with [personally identifiable information] routinely, and it is our charge to ensure that the systems and processes we employ safeguard this sensitive information,' Winter wrote.

One defense official said Winter is distressed about the amount of personal information that might have been compromised as a result of the data losses and added that new regulations for safeguarding personally identifiable information in the Navy are in the works.

Under the new policy, some instances of lost personal data could result in administrative and/or disciplinary action, Winter wrote in his message.

Navy officials are now awaiting Defense Department guidance on complying with a May 27 mandate from the Office of Management and Budget to safeguard personally identifiable information, the official said.

Two of the issues DOD officials have yet to resolve are what information should be considered personally identifiable and how losses should be reported, the official said.

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