Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Paul Hughes, community representative
- Gail Smith, community representative
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Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School District did the right thing Tuesday when it negotiated a deal to provide credit monitoring for all past and present employees whose Social Security numbers were on a laptop stolen from district offices.
The announcement was in contrast to the district's earlier decision to offer free credit monitoring only to current employees. District officials were planning to ask former employees to pay a negotiated $40 fee for the same monitoring service from Equifax.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said Tuesday that Equifax improved its offer and will provide one year of credit monitoring for all 1,351 affected people for a total of $20,000, a drastic decrease from the original quote of $52,000. The district cited the overwhelming cost of the original quote as the reason for its initial decision to offer free monitoring only to current employees.
More important, Cunningham acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that providing the service to everyone whose Social Security number was compromised is simply "the right thing to do."
"It just didn't feel right to take care of some and not all," Cunningham said.
Kudos to Cunningham and other district officials for making the right decision. It was difficult to understand how the district could differentiate between past and present employees when it came to the security of their identities. Identity theft can destroy credit and lives regardless of whether someone still receives a paycheck from the school system. And the bottom line is that it was the school district, as custodian of the Social Security numbers, that jeopardized the identities of its current and former employees by keeping that information in a spreadsheet on a computer.
The laptop in question was stolen the night of Feb. 24 from the office of district Finance Director Dale Mellor. On his laptop was a spreadsheet containing the names and SSNs of 1,351 past and present school district employees, including part-timers such as substitutes and bus drivers. The spreadsheet was required as part of a past district audit. Mellor's computer was password protected, so it remains unclear whether the thief or thieves have gained access to the information.
But the potential breach also raises questions about how the school district or any corporate entity maintains classified employee information. Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the U.S., with more than 15 million victims each year. Those thefts account for $50 billion. The school district incident should be the impetus for all local businesses and government agencies to establish or follow existing protocols for information storage and encryption.
There are many organizations that provide expert advice on identity theft prevention and protection, including www.insideIDtheft.info. Our hope is that the person or persons who stole Mellor's laptop never access the spreadsheet with the Social Security numbers, but there's simply no excuse for individuals and employers to not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from future security breaches.
And when those breaches invariably occur, businesses and government agencies should follow the industry standard and provide free credit monitoring for all affected employees, past and present.