January 19, 2013
Class action lawsuit launched against government over missing student loan info
A Newfoundland lawyer will file a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the federal department that lost the personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers late last year.
Bob Buckingham, who is based in St. John’s and specializes in privacy breach claims, said the decision to move forward with the lawsuit against Human Resources and Skills Development Canada was made Monday.
“This is huge,” the lawyer said of the amount of information lost. “It’s valuable to (those) who want to wreak havoc with individuals’ lives or be involved in identity theft.
A representative fielding inquiries by student loan borrowers told the Star those compromised need to monitor their bank accounts and credit cards for suspicious activity. The representative also recommended contacting Equifax and Transunion, both credit agencies, and ask to be monitored for suspicious transactions.
In the last 24 hours, Buckingham said his staff has been swamped with people contacting the office wanting to be involved in the lawsuit.
By his estimation, nearly 1,600 student loan borrowers from across Canada have contacted him by phone, e-mail and their Facebook page.
Human Resources and Skills Development announced Friday that the external hard drive contained the private details of borrowers from 2000 to 2006.
Sean Hooper, a student loan borrower between 2004 and 2006, found out Tuesday his personal information was on the hard drive. The 29-year-old University of Windsor graduate said he doubts the government is taking it seriously.
“If this were a private industry handling personal information, there would be serious repercussions from all sides, including loss of business/clientele and government intervention,” he said. “But being a government slip up, it kind of feels like they’re saying “oops, I did it again” ... we’ll try better next time.”
Hooper added he’s not sure he’d go as far as to participate in a class-action suit , “but it does concern me that personal information is being kept unencrypted, and on external, removable hard drives.”
Minister Diane Finley has said new regulations and policy are in place to make sure this type of data loss doesn’t happen again.
The minister expressed disappointment in the situation, calling it unacceptable and avoidable.
Staff at a Gatineau, Que. office noticed the hard drive missing on Nov. 5. Information on the hard drive, used as a backup storage option, contained student names, dates of birth, social insurance numbers, addresses and student loan balances from borrowers across the country.
No banking or medical information was on the device, which included the personal contact information of 250 department employees.
The lawsuit, Buckingham said, will have to go before the courts to be approved as a class-action lawsuit, before people interested in joining can sign on.
This is the second time in as many months human resources department staff has lost personal information of Canadians. In late 2012, the department informed the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of a lost, unencrypted USB key that contained information on more than 5,000 residents.
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