SC: Laptops Stolen From Elementary School; Thumb Drive May Contain Sensitive Information

From WSPA in South Carolina:

Confidential information may have been stolen from students at an Upstate school. Investigators say someone swiped two laptop computers over Memorial Day weekend. A thumb drive on one of those computers may have contained personal information about students.

The thefts happened at Ravenel Elementary School in Seneca in the Oconee County School District.


Dr. Michael Thorsland, Assistant Superintendent with the Oconee County School District says, “It’s possible that there were some copies of Medicaid release forms on the thumb drive for approximately 15 students. The only information on the release form would have been parent name, student name, and Medicaid number.”

The school district says there was no personal information on the other laptop that was stolen. The district says Social Security numbers were not on either computer the thieves took.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services says it’s against federal law to even identify someone who is on Medicaid, but he says there’s little you can do with just a Medicaid identification number. DHHS Spokesman Jeff Stensland says, “You have to be a doctor or some other provider that’s already enrolled with us in order to file a claim for a Medicaid recipient, so someone in the general public wouldn’t be able to file a claim for payment.”

The district sent out a letter to parents whose children may have been affected by the possible security breach, and they’re taking steps to secure the room where the laptop was stolen.

Dr. Thorsland says, “Anytime someone breaks into a building and steals something. We’re concerned about that. We did learn a little bit because the room where the computer was taken did have backdoor access.”

Officials are working with the school to put a lock on the interior door they think the thief used to get into the room with the laptop.

The alarm did not go off when the crooks popped out a window to get into the back part of the school. Dr. Thorsland says, “We’re not sure if it wasn’t set the day before or if it didn’t function. We’re looking into that.”

The Department of Health and Human Services says the Oconee County School District was supposed to notify them of any possible Medicaid breaches. The district says they were unaware of this requirement until News Channel 7 brought it to their attention. School officials planned to notify the local Health and Human Services office Thursday afternoon.

So why were medicaid release forms on a thumb drive, anyway? And why doesn’t the district know for sure whether they were on the drive? And if they were on the drive, why weren’t they encrypted? And why didn’t the district know its obligations to notify DHHS?

Remember that the U.S. Education Department has proposed increased tracking of students. If schools cannot adequately protect the data they already have, would you really feel confident letting them amass even more sensitive information about your child?

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