WASHINGTON – Airport security screeners filed suit Tuesday to expand the Transportation Security Administration's response to its loss of Social Security numbers, bank data and payroll information for about 100,000 employees.
If the data, which was contained on a lost computer hard drive, "were to fall into the wrong hands, false identity badges easily could be created in order to gain access to secure areas," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
"A Department of Homeland Security agency that cannot even shield its own employee data is not reassuring."
Gage's union represents security screeners employed at the nation's airports by TSA, a unit of the Homeland Security Department. The union and four screeners filed the class action suit against TSA in U.S. District Court on behalf of all TSA security employees whose personal information was lost.
"TSA's reckless behavior is clearly in violation of the law," including the Privacy Act and the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which requires TSA to ensure adequate security at airports, Gage said.
The lawsuit asked the court to order TSA to take new security measures consistent with those laws, including encrypting personnel data and installing electronic monitoring on any mobile equipment that stores personnel information.
The TSA said there is no evidence yet that the data has been used for any unauthorized purpose and it has taken measures to be alerted if someone uses the hard drive. It has told current and former employees it would give them a year of free credit monitoring, free ID theft insurance up to $25,000 and assistance from identity restoration experts if any theft occurs.
"We are singularly focused on doing what's right for our employees," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said Tuesday. The agency so far has conducted two Webcasts to inform employees of the steps taken and "we are getting positive feedback to our immediate action," she added.
The lawsuit asked the court to order TSA to grant administrative leave, without penalty, to any screeners who need time off to protect against or correct any identity theft or financial disruption. Finally, the suit sought reimbursement for any financial losses workers might suffer.
An external hard drive containing the data was discovered missing from a controlled area at the TSA Headquarters Office of Human Capital last Thursday. The data covered 100,000 archived records of people employed by TSA from January 2002 until August 2005.
The Secret Service has joined the investigation.