City of Houston Employees' Health Plan Data Exposed to the World?

A great way to screw up some people's lives.
A great way to screw up some people's lives. Photo by Margaret Downing
Wow this just in at 5:13 p.m. (have a lot of people gone home already?) A gigantic oops has occurred in which city of Houston employees' health plan data probably has been accessed through a laptop theft.

And it took the city just (let's count) 21 days AKA three weeks to admit to this! Way to go! No wait, we're sure they were researching this intensely.

Apparently a poorly trained perhaps about to be fired city employee who was not following proper procedure had his or her laptop computer stolen from his or her vehicle on February 2. According to a just issued city press release: "The password-protected laptop may have contained records including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and other medical information."

City of Houston employees — you are screwed.

Word is:

"The City is exhausting all efforts to recover the stolen laptop and determine the extent, if any, of the information that may have been compromised, including investigations by the Houston Police Department and the Office of Inspector General.

The City has reinforced strong measures already in place to protect against breaches. HR professionals are trained not to remove laptops from City offices unless any sensitive data is encrypted.

Because one employee failed to follow his training, all employees authorized to work with group health plan data are being retrained to reinforce the prohibition against removing unencrypted data from the protections of City facilities.

Potentially affected employees, retirees, and their dependents will receive a letter notifying them of the potential breach. Because Social Security numbers were involved, it is recommended that those who receive a notice place a fraud alert on their credit files.

The City is also providing free credit monitoring and identity restoration services for one year to help protect personal information. Individuals who have any questions, need additional information, or any assistance from the City can call the toll-free number 1-855-288-3409."
 Well on behalf of all the people in the United States who are routinely compelled to hand over their most private information to their employers, on their credit card applications, to the less than responsible credit bureaus, we want to say: enough is enough. Why can't you do your jobs right?

People's lives are going to be screwed up massively by this. For months. Maybe years. We're so glad the city is concerned and so transparent three weeks later.  If we could, we'd fire the lot of you off an angry letter.

Most respectfully, Dear Sirs and Madams,



All the people who are going to have to fill out police reports and ID theft reports and endure countless approaches from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion that will be handled by bumbling new hires brought on to quell the latest disaster.

Bad news buried on a Friday after 5 p.m. Ah that's class.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing