FEMA investigates breach of Katrina victims’ private information
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Dec 24, 2008
Personal information on people who applied for disaster aid after
Hurricane Katrina was recently published on the Web without
authorization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
is investigating the unauthorized posting of the names, Social Security
numbers, telephone numbers, addresses and other personal information
that the agency collected from applicants, FEMA announced in a news
release dated Dec. 19 and modified Dec. 23. FEMA was alerted Dec. 16 to
a Web site posting of a spreadsheet that contained 16,857 lines of
personal information about Hurricane Katrina evacuees from the Gulf
Coast to Texas, the news release states.
After FEMA officials
verified the problem and identified a second Web site on which similar
information was posted, they worked with the Web sites’ owners to
remove the information from public view, the news release states.
officials suspect the data breach originated in a state agency to which
FEMA had released the data because, among other reasons, the
spreadsheet’s format differs from the format FEMA uses.
believes that most of the applicant information posted on the Web sites
was properly released by FEMA to a state agency [that] requested and
received this information to fulfill routine needs following Hurricane
Katrina,” the news release states.
Although FEMA’s release of
the information to the state was proper, FEMA did not authorize the
subsequent posting on the Web, the agency said.
“FEMA and the
state agency from which this unauthorized release may have originated
are cooperating in a thorough investigation of this matter,” FEMA
officials said in the release.
FEMA is contacting all applicants
whose information was posted and will provide them with an 18-month
subscription to an identity-theft protection service.
regrets that this information was posted and is working collaboratively
with its state partner and others to fully investigate this matter,”
the release states. “The investigation will continue until the source
and circumstances of the breach have been identified.”
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.