Laptop theft exposes patients' medical data

A National Institutes of Health laptop housing seven years worth of clinical studies on 2,500 patients is stolen, potentially exposing sensitive information.

A government laptop housing the medical information of 2,500 patients enrolled in a National Institutes of Health study was stolen, potentially exposing personal data.

The computer was stolen in February from the trunk of a car driven by a lab chief of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, but officials did not notify the patients of the theft until Thursday, saying they didn't want to spread unnecessary alarm, according to The Washington Post.

The laptop contained seven years worth of clinical studies on the patients, including their names, ages, medical record numbers, and MRI reports. Social Security numbers and physical addresses were not on the computer, according to the NIH.

Incidents at other federal agencies, including the high-profile theft in 2006 of a Veterans Affairs laptop and hard drive that held data on more than 26 million veterans and active military personnel, have prompted calls for better data security practices from Congress. The information on the NIH laptop was not encrypted, which violates the agency's security policies.

The agency said there is no indication that the thief took the computer because of its content, and it doesn't expect that the data will be misused.