Data doesn't add up on study of missing laptops at U.S. airports

There's a gap between what airports claim and what a study says

The findings of a study recently released by Dell Inc. and the Ponemon Institute LLC that claims 12,000 laptops are lost, missing or stolen each week at U.S. airports aren't easily supported by data reported by three of the airports in the study -- or by data from the Transportation Security Administration.

The study, independently conducted by the Ponemon Institute LLC for Dell, was based on "a confidential field survey" of airport personnel not identified in the report.

One airport, Miami International, was identified in the report as having approximately 1,000 laptops lost, missing or stolen each week, the second highest laptop loss frequency among all airports after Los Angeles International, at 1,200 a week.

Computerworld asked Miami International officials to provide what records they have on lost, missing and stolen laptops. Their data shows that for all of 2007, 68 laptops were reported stolen and 480 were turned in to the airport's lost and found. For its part, the TSA in Miami reported that in the 12-month period that ended May 31, it had received only 38 missing laptop claims.

The Ponemon study says that for all airports, security checkpoints are the most common locations where laptops are lost, accounting for 40% of such incidents, followed by departure gates, which account for 23% of the incidents.

"We consider this study very nonscientific," said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, who added the study doesn't accurately reflect the number of laptops lost at TSA checkpoints. The TSA says that, nationally, about 75 laptops are reported lost or missing each month. More than 2 million passengers go through TSA checkpoints each day.

The data reported by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport, also doesn't correlate to the numbers in the Ponemon study. For example, the study estimates that 450 laptops are reported lost, missing or stolen at National Airport each week. However, for all of 2007, the airport authority said that only 276 laptops were turned in to lost and found.

At Dulles, 43 laptops were turned over to the airport's lost and found in 2007. However, the study estimates that 400 laptops are lost each week at Dulles.

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