Legal help center loses back-up tape of data

November 21, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

A back-up tape containing over 20,000 clients’ and prospective clients’ personal data—including 8,000 Social Security numbers and some case information—was lost Sept. 23 en route between a Jamaica Plain-based nonprofit legal center and Harvard Law School in Cambridge.

The tape was among six back-up tapes a technician swapped out from computers at the Boylston Street offices of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School at Harvard University (LSC), said Harvard Law School spokesperson Robert London.

The tape is password-protected, and access to the information it contains requires customized software, including a software “patch”—an on-the-spot software update. “The level of protection is…almost to the level of safety you would find with encryption,” London said.

The tape has no information on it to indicate what it is, he said.

The tape contains the center’s “entire case management” for the last 10 years, including information about everyone who ever visited the LSC for an intake interview. About 21,000 names of individual and business clients are listed on the tape, as is some case information, London said.

“It was some information about some of the cases,” he said.

Those with Social Security information on the tapes were sent a letter on Nov. 4, informing them that they “will be able to avail themselves of credit protection services…at our expense, as well as information about putting security freezes on different types of bank accounts,” London said.

Another letter was sent to those whose Social Security numbers were not on the tapes, he said. The Gazette received a copy of the second letter, which was addressed to “LSC clients and Interested Persons.”

Since the tape contained back-up data, the lost information should not slow down any active cases, he said.

The tape was lost in the course of a routine weekly swap of back-up tapes, London said. It could have been lost at the JP office, on the subway, or on the grounds of Harvard Law School, he said.

Prior to the loss, technicians, who trade off the responsibility of transferring the tapes, would find their own way between the law school campus and LSC, usually by car or on the subway, London said.

Since the tape was lost, Harvard Law School has started using a professional courier service that “specializes in the transfer of electronic data,” to move the tapes from JP to Cambridge, London said.

The school has also started encrypting the data and instituted a barcode cataloguing system for the tapes, he said.

LSC provides free legal services for Boston residents earning less than 187 percent of the area median income—about $19,500. Locally, it has worked with City/Life Vida Urbana, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and opponents of the Arborway Trolley restoration.

People concerned that their information might be on the tape can contact LSC at 390-2566 and speak to Aimee Lima Mavridis.

Best of JP 2014