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UC Berkeley Looks Into Laptop Theft

The computer's files held Social Security numbers, addresses and other personal data. Authorities say there's no evidence of misuse.

March 29, 2005|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Campus police at UC Berkeley are investigating the theft of a laptop computer with files containing Social Security numbers, addresses and other personal information on more than 98,000 people.

UC Berkeley authorities said they have no evidence of misuse of the information, which includes data on current and past graduate students and applicants for graduate school. Still, they urged people possibly affected to consider contacting credit agencies to activate fraud alerts on their accounts.

The university-owned laptop was stolen March 11 from a restricted area on the fourth floor of Sproul Hall, the student administration building. A campus employee spotted a woman slipping out of the area, toting a laptop.

Marie Felde, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman, said campus police did not announce the theft earlier because they thought it would complicate efforts to recover the new IBM computer and because authorities believed "this was the theft of a laptop rather than somebody trying to steal sensitive information."

University of California policy requires personal data to be encrypted for privacy protection. However, Felde said, the files on the laptop were downloaded for internal campus research the previous day and had not yet been encrypted.

The disclosure came five months after federal and state authorities announced a hacker attack on a UC Berkeley computer system. That attack raised concerns about the potential disclosure of information on as many as 600,000 Californians involved in a home-care program for seniors and the disabled. Felde said authorities had not reported any misuse of the data or any arrests in that case.

In the stolen laptop, the information pertains to applicants to graduate programs other than law at UC Berkeley between fall 2001 and spring 2004; graduate students who enrolled at Berkeley between fall 1989 and fall 2003; and recipients of doctoral degrees between 1976 and 1999.

Campus officials are trying to contact all 98,369 people whose records might be compromised, but they fear they might not have current addresses for all of them.

For people concerned about their records, UC Berkeley has set up a website: newscenter.berkeley.edu/security/grad/.

They can also contact the university at (800) 372-5110 or at idalert@berkeley.edu.

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