Augusta Commission investigates stolen employee data

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The Augusta Commission wants answers from the employee benefits company ING concerning the possibility that thousands of city workers' personal information has been compromised.

Part of the Augusta Commission meeting Thursday, June 29 felt like a court hearing. On the witness stand was the human resources director, answering the questions of Augusta commissioners.

The questions were all about a laptop, which was stolen from the mailroom of insurance company ING's Minneapolis office in March.

The computer contained personal information including the social security numbers of all 2700 city workers, even those who did not enroll in the program.

Company officials showed up to explain how it happened and why they needed that information. But surprising to some, city leaders for the most part placed most of the blame on the human resources department, saying they should have never released that information in the first place.

"I'm not so much worried about them, Mr. Mayor," said commissioner Marion Williams. "I'm worried about our internal people who are doing things to hurt the employees that they are supposed to be protecting."

"They needed that information to do the enrollment," said Robbie Burns, Augusta human resources director. "They needed that information on all employees to decide the amounts of coverage."

"Perhaps somebody in Kalamazoo, MI can be using some of our social security numbers and having identity theft," said commissioner Calvin Holland.

"I don't know what we can do except, really, take their word for it," said commissioner Jimmy Smith after the meeting.

They don't just seem to be taking their word for it, though, because an investigation has been opened to look into this matter. City attorney Steve Shepherd says privacy laws should have prevented this information from being released.

The main point ING officials drove home was that the data was encrypted. They stressed that there's a 99.9 percent chance it can't be accessed.

But commissioner Marion Williams says he believes it has been accessed.

He says that since the laptop was stolen, city employees have complained about getting calls from telemarketers.

Company officials say they are more than sure that did not happen.