The Transportation Security Administration announced that the hard drive was found missing from a controlled area at the TSA Headquarters Office of Human Capital on Thursday, May 3. Agents of the U.S. Secret Service have been called in and have been investigating the incident since last Friday. The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General also is following the investigation, according to an advisory from the TSA.
"It is unclear at this stage whether the device is still within headquarters or was stolen," said Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator, in a letter to employees. "We are notifying you out of an abundance of caution at this early stage of the investigation, given the significance of the information contained on the device."
The TSA reported that the hard drive holds archived employment records of people employed by the agency from January 2002 until August 2005. The records include names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and payroll information, along with bank account and routing information.
The TSA advisory noted that there are measures in place to alert government officials if someone attempts to use the hard drive, but it didn't say how they would be notified.
The agency informed employees affected by the missing hard drive that the TSA will offer them free credit monitoring for up to one year, along with fraud alerts and ID theft insurance up to $25,000. The agency also is offering the services of identity restoration specialists who will complete paperwork and assist employees in the event they are the victims of identity theft.
Current and former employees can register via phone, mail, or online through a secure Web site. More information is available at this Web site.
"In response to incidents like this one and the increasing number of data breaches in the public and private sectors, the agency is continually monitoring its systems and practices to enhance the security of personal and sensitive information," said Hawley.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Social Security numbers of about 150,000 people may be at risk for identity theft after it was discovered that the agency had exposed the personal identifying information on farmers and others for the last 26 years. The USDA had inadvertently exposed online sensitive information in a publicly available database that has existed since 1981. The data had been exposed ever since it was put online.