Missing education records cause unease For Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union

Information on 3.4 million students across B.C. and Yukon is sitting on a missing hard drive.

Information on 3.4 million students across B.C. and Yukon is sitting on a missing hard drive belonging to the Ministry of Education and the local teachers’ union is frustrated by the circumstances.

“How you can misplace a hard drive that has a lot of confidential information on it is beyond me,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union. “It could be just lost, but then something that’s lost can easily get into the wrong hands.”

Woodward said they were “assured it was confidential and that nobody was every going to get ahold of this.”

The data breach involves students of all grades that were enrolled in public schools between 1986 and 2009. Among the enclosed information were full names, personal education numbers, grade point averages, special needs requirements and home addresses.

It’s not known whether the breach was malicious or accidental, but there is no evidence the information has been taken or misused, according to Citizens’ Services Minister Amrik Virk. A lengthy physical search of a secure warehouse in Victoria turned up nothing, while ministry electronic records continue to be searched to see if the hard drive was moved or destroyed.

Nonetheless, Woodward said the uncertainty is enough to cause fear.

“Somebody 35 years old today could have had something happen in school that wasn’t so great, maybe it was a mental health issue, and they’re doing fine now. But it can affect a person when information like that gets out, it could have a negative effect on their job, or anything.”

Woodward said even before the breach teachers had concerns about privacy issues relating to electronic record keeping.

“There are all types of glitches in the programs that aren’t keeping students information confidential,” she said. “Here’s a prime example of something getting out there. They need to have better checks and balances in place to get this sorted out.”

The province’s education critic NDP MLA Rob Fleming doesn’t expect the missing hard drive to turn up.

“For government to admit this has happened is not good enough,” Fleming said. “They have to tell us how and why it happened, and the minister specifically has to say why he failed to do his job.”

Wendy Hyer, Superintendent of SD67, believes the ministry is responding diligently.

“They’ve informed all the people they need to inform and they’re undergoing an investigation so I would say they are taking the breach very seriously.”

For those who are unsure whether or not their information is secure, the government has set up a phone contact centre through Service BC for specific inquiries about the data breach at 1-800-663-7867. The centre is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and callers should be prepared to say when they attended public or post-secondary schools in B.C. Details of the information on the missing drive can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/1YzSt9p.

— With files from Tom Fletcher