Staff Data Lost by Bank of America

Posted March 1, 2005 at 6:37pm

Along with personal information on more than two-dozen Senators, computer data tapes lost by Bank of America Corp. in late 2004 contained sensitive details about nearly 100 charge card accounts used by Capitol Hill staff.

According to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, approximately 120 charge card accounts used by Senators and their aides are profiled on the missing computer data tapes, which Bank of America officials have said contain information on more than 1.2 million accounts used by federal employees.

Bank of America publicly acknowledged late last week that it lost the tapes, which contain personal data such as Social Security numbers and addresses.

A spokeswoman for the Rules panel said the tapes included accounts used by 28 Senators and 92 staff members. In addition, the missing data may also include accounts used by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office.

Bank of America spokeswoman Alexandra Trower declined to comment on specific accounts, stating: “Every customer at Bank of America is of paramount importance to us.”

The committee alerted lawmakers to the situation in an e-mail last week, although no incidents of fraud have been reported to date.

“The committee is making the Senators and the offices aware of everything that’s happened and saying that we believe that both Bank of America and [the General Services Administration] are doing everything in their power to secure the information,” said Rules spokeswoman Susan Irby.

The charge cards are administered through GSA’s SmartPay Program, which contracts with financial institutions including Bank of America, as well as Citibank, U.S. Bank, Bank One and Mellon Bank, to provide charge card programs to a few dozen federal agencies.

According to information provided by GSA, more than 1,400 cards were circulating in Senate offices in fiscal 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

The chamber issued employees 556 purchase cards — which can be used to pay for supplies and services under guidelines set by each agency — and spent a total of $1,428,324 in fiscal 2004. In addition, the Senate charged $730,306 in expenses to its 857 travel charge cards during the same time period.

Several other legislative branch agencies are also listed as holding Bank of America-issued charge cards, including the Government Accountability Office and the Government Printing Office. House Members and staff do not appear to have been affected by the incident because the chamber uses Citibank-issued charge cards.

According to a GAO spokesman, more than 220 of the agency’s accounts may have been affected by the loss of the data tapes.

The majority of accounts involved, however, are believed to belong to the Defense Department.

Although bank officials first noticed the missing tapes in December, when the information was lost en route to a backup data center, it did not notify its customers until Feb. 25, citing an investigation by the Secret Service.

Bank of America spokeswoman Trower said the investigation is ongoing, but has not turned up any evidence of identity fraud. According to a statement issued by the company last week, the tapes “are now presumed lost.”

“We have absolutely no indication that there was unusual activity, nor do we have any indication that there has been any inappropriate usage of this information,” said Trower.

She declined to discuss specifics about how many Senate accounts could be affected by the missing tapes, but confirmed that the bank has no plans to cancel the accounts or reissue new account numbers.

“We thought it would be more of an inconvenience to these cardholders to cancel these accounts in a wholesale manner and reissue them,” Trower said.

According to the Rules and Administration Committee, the bank will, however, provide card holders with new accounts upon request and has also offered to provide a free credit report to individuals whose personal information was included on the lost data tapes.

“If they do feel more comfortable getting a new card … or getting a credit report, by all means do so,” Irby said.

The incident has drawn the ire of some lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“They just lost thousands upon thousands of files on their customers,” Leahy said on the Senate floor Monday. “I’d hate to be a customer of Bank of America and wake up in the morning and find they were so stupid and so negligent that they lost your information. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Leahy, who serves as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, is seeking hearings to examine privacy and security implications involved when companies collect and sell personal data. The Vermont lawmaker said he has received support from the panel’s chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Although Senate officials initially believed Leahy was among those Senators whose personal information may have been exposed, an aide to the Vermont lawmaker said Monday the account actually belongs to a staff member in the office. Some media outlets also reported that Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s (R-N.C.) information was lost, but that was erroneous.