Stolen laptop had IDs on 268,000 Minnesota blood donors

In aftermath, center stops using Social Security numbers as IDs

A laptop stolen during a recent blood drive contained sensitive information on 268,000 Minnesota-region blood donors, Memorial Blood Centers said Wednesday.

The laptop was in a briefcase that was stolen just before 7 a.m. on Nov. 28 as workers were setting up a blood drive, said Laura Kaplan, manager of marketing and communications at the blood center. "They were setting up for a blood drive, and this was in a briefcase," she said. "The police have told us they believe it was a random crime."

Memorial Blood Centers is a nonprofit blood bank based in St. Paul, Minn. It operates 10 blood-collection centers in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and collects about 125,000 units of blood each year.

Kaplan said the laptop was protected by several passwords, but she would not say whether its hard drive was encrypted. "We believe that the data is secure," she said.

The company is notifying donors affected by the theft in accordance with Minnesota law, Memorial said in a letter dated Wednesday and sent to those affected by the theft.

The stolen records include names, addresses, blood types and Social Security numbers -- enough information to be of use to identity thieves. But Memorial said it was unlikely that thieves would misuse the data.

The laptop thief was videotaped on nearby surveillance cameras, and Minneapolis police have circulated a video of the incident among local news media.

After the theft, Memorial Blood Centers stopped collecting Social Security number of donors. Starting this past Monday, it began identifying donors through a series of questions and via other forms of identification such as driver's licenses, Kaplan said.

Increasingly, health organizations are moving away from using Social Security numbers because of the risks associated with this kind of theft.

Unencrypted data on stolen or lost laptops has become a major source of privacy breaches in the U.S. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, sensitive data on more than 216 million U.S. residents has been compromised since January 2005.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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