The Birmingham News reported, yesterday, that a computer with private employee data from supermarket chain Bruno’s was lost. An employee with Deloitte put his notebook in checked baggage at the airport. Naturally, it did not reappear on the baggage belt. (The story does not clarify whether the bag didn’t appear, or whether the bag arrived sans laptop.) Apparently the folks at Royal Ahold (the owner of Brunos) have ongoing problems in this regard. Last May, another Ahold supplier lost a computer containing private employee data. Nobody thinks this is a good thing, but is it really newsworthy?
We have seen several stories, recently, about lost or stolen laptops containing troves of private data. These incidents do introduce a risk that the data will be converted to improper uses – most obviously identity fraud – but I suspect that, in most cases, the ultimate recipient of the computer was seeking, well, a computer. In any case, one thing is clear: the media like to find stories that fit into existing news frames. In particular, they like to find stories that fit with growing social anxieties. Thus, a few years back, a couple of drivers went nuts on the road, taking shots at drivers in other cars. Some savvy writer coined the term “road rage”. Suddenly, aggressive acts by drivers – even those that would have been too mundane to report – became newsworthy as proof of surging “road rage.”
So it is, I fear, with misplaced computers containing private data. The good news for Brunos employees is that, given baggage handling norms, the compuer is likely inoperable. And even if does work, it’s probable that the thief – if there be one – simply wanted some additional computing power. On the other hand, maybe that notebook is for sale this very day in at the nation’s lost baggage depot – The Unclaimed Baggage Center – in Scottsboro, Alabama. If so, identity thiefs would be advised to hustle on down before a local farmer buys the unit and accidentally erases pages of highly valuable private information.