Hard drive containing Ark. Democratic Party data sold on eBay

The drive, offered as new, had come out of party official's laptop

Imagine Bill Ries-Knight's surprise when he purchased a supposedly new hard drive on eBay only to discover it contained information from the Arkansas Democratic Party.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Ries-Knight, who lives in Stockton, Calif., said none of the information was encrypted and only a small amount of it was password protected.

In a telephone interview, Ries-Knight, a computer technician, said that while he didn't look at all the files on the drive, he did determine that the data included the private cell phone numbers of Democratic members of Arkansas' congressional delegation and of financial contributors to the party, including U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, as well as U.S. Reps. Marion Berry, Mike Ross and Vic Snyder.

Ries-Knight provided Computerworld with screenshots of the hard drive as well as other information documenting his claims.

After he discovered the information on the hard drive, he conducted his own investigation and determined that it came from a defunct computer once owned by Bruce Sinclair, director of Arkansas' Democratic Party. Ries-Knight then called Sinclair to make sure his computer had not been stolen. It had not, Ries-Knight was told.

"I was looking on eBay for a nice-priced laptop drive so I could enhance my portable computing," Ries-Knight said. "In the process, I bid on a new Seagate 120GB 2.5-in. laptop drive. I won the auction at a fair price and it arrived in the mail. As always, I check things out before responding to the auction. It was not a new drive. In fact, it was a pull from an HP laptop. It seems that in March 2007 [David Qualls] the friend of a high-ranking official of the Democratic Party of Arkansas [Sinclair] did some work on said HP laptop. [Sinclair] was led to believe it was a dead drive."

Ries-Knight said he also contacted David Qualls, the person who sold the hard drive on eBay. Ries-Knight said he was subsequently told that it was Qualls' wife who sold the hard drive on eBay, but he's not convinced that's the case. Qualls is a lead programmer/analyst for the Arkansas Department of Information Systems.

Both Sinclair and Qualls declined to comment for this story.

Ries-Knight said Qualls tried to image the hard drive from Sinclair's old computer to the hard drive that was on Sinclair's new computer, but failed. In exchange for his work, Qualls ended up retaining the drive from the new laptop, which still had the image information on it and was then sold on eBay.

"I recommend that if a tech says your drive is dead, that you ask for the drive and a sledge hammer," Ries-Knight said. "Be sure. If it contains sensitive information, use a legit data recovery company or destroy it."

Ries-Knight said he plans to wipe the drive clean of the data.

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