Privacy Breach Leaves Identities of Student Loan Recipients Exposed

By: Justin Leung on January 12, 2013

Canadians who applied for student loans between 2000 and 2006 should contact Service Canada and their credit card providers.  The government recently reported to the RCMP that an unencrypted external hard drive containing personal information of student loan applicants has been lost, and the police worry cases of identity theft could swell in the coming months.

Canada’s Human Resources and Skills Development department says the hard drive contains personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers.  This lost information includes names, social insurance numbers, addresses, and the balances of the loans.  While the government has been criticized for its lack of transparency regarding the data theft, student organizations believe the number of names on the hard drive is proof that too many students amass heavy debts to attend school.

An employee at the Human Resources Department noticed the missing hard drive on November 5 last year, but the department’s security officer wasn’t informed until November 28.  The department was unable to confirm the information stored on the hard drive until December 6, and waited yet another month to refer the case to the RCMP as well as inform the public of the lost information.  A spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says the wait was due to the extensive process of the internal investigation, as well as the holiday season.

However, the government has come under fire for withholding the information over the holidays.   The holidays are a chaotic spending season where illegitimate transactions are difficult to identify; it’s an opportune time for credit card scammers to defraud unsuspecting cardholders. 

The Canadian Federation of Students, which represents the interests of student unions across Canada, has reacted to the security breach in a different way.  Spokesperson Adam Awad says the delayed transparency was “frustrating,” but believes the breach reinforces the reality that many Canadians must compile student loan debt in order to acquire a post-secondary education.

It seems indicative of the enormity of the student loan system and how big it’s gotten over the last decade that hundreds of thousands of students rely on student loans to go to school.”

Canadians will certainly demand the government be held to account for this security breach.  However, the optimism from the Canadian Federation of Students suggests some good could come from the theft.