Transportation Security Administration sued for reckless violation of the Privacy Act

Calling the recent loss of employee personal data a breach of the Privacy Act, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) — which represents employees throughout the Department of Homeland Security, including the Transportation Security Administration — yesterday filed a class action lawsuit against the TSA. Last week, the TSA announced that an external hard drive containing archived employment records had been lost. The missing data included names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and payroll and bank account information for some 100,000 employees.

In AFGE, et al v. Kip Hawley and TSA, AFGE claims that by failing to establish safeguards to ensure the security and confidentiality of personnel records, TSA violated both the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) and the Privacy Act of 1974. The ATSA explicitly mandates the TSA administrator to “ensure the adequacy of security measures at airports,” and the Privacy Act directs that every federal agency have in place a security system to prevent unauthorized release of personal records.

“TSA’s reckless behavior is clearly in violation of the law,” AFGE National President John Gage said. “TSA must be held liable for this wanton disregard for employee privacy.”

In the lawsuit, AFGE asks that TSA be ordered to create new security procedures consistent with the ATSA and the Privacy Act, specifically electronically monitoring any mobile equipment that stores personnel data and encrypting personnel data.

“The maintenance and safeguarding of personnel data is vital to the protection of security at our nation’s airports,” Gage added. “If the stolen information were to fall into the wrong hands, false identity badges easily could be created in order to gain access to secure areas. This is the Department of Homeland Security we are talking about. The American people look to DHS for security and protection. A DHS agency that cannot even shield its own employee data is not reassuring.”

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