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GannettUSA Today

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Exposing the VA's vulnerability

The folks in Washington just don't know how to react when something goes wrong. Latest case in point: the loss of personal information about 26.5 million veterans that were filed on a government-owned laptop and disks stolen from a Department of Veterans Affairs analyst's home in Maryland. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson's response: "decisive action'' against the employees responsible.

This is not the time for finger-pointing and an endless investigation. It's time to admit this is a security breach that calls for immediate implementation of security measures that ensure the confidentiality of veterans' Social Security numbers and birthdates. (Along the way, maybe they can determine why such sensitive data was available on a laptop at an employee's home.) Nicholson says the VA would need more money -- $25 million -- to update its security procedures, not to mention what it would cost to make veterans whole if their information is misused.

Veterans have been violated by this burglary. (They only learned about it 19 days after it happened, an unconscionable delay.) Nicholson should make a VA security upgrade his top priority. Undoubtedly, there's $25 million of fat somewhere in the federal budget. Identity thieves don't need any help.

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