Electronic files containing the names, Social Security numbers, and other private data about 800,000 California adults and children were there one minute. And the next, they were gone.
Four computer storage devices containing data from California's Department of Child Services were lost during transport between Boulder, Colo., and Sacramento, Calif., earlier this month, the Associated Press reported earlier today. The data was brought to an offsite location to test the department's ability to cope with a disaster and included a test of whether the data could be managed remotely.
The test itself was apparently successful, with IBM managing the data in its remote facility. The storage devices were then supposed to be transported back to California via Iron Mountain. But since the company doesn't fly, the AP reported, the devices were shipped via FedEx instead.
A spokesman for the state's Office of Technology Services told the AP that it believes the container holding the devices wasn't properly secured and fell out during transport. The incident highlights just how easily data can be lost, despite the protections that are put in place.
IBM said a statement that there is no indication the data on the storage devices have been improperly accessed or used. The company added it was working "diligently with all involved parties to find the unaccounted-for storage devices."
Also exposed were addresses, drivers license numbers, health insurance providers, employers, and information on parents and their children.
The Department of Child Services has notified via mail the people possibly affected by the loss and has also alerted credit reporting agencies, the state Attorney General's Office, and the state's Office of Privacy Protection.
Updated at 10:29 a.m. PT: to include a statement from IBM.