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Ohio's Laptops Often Stolen or Missing

In Dayton, a state employee returns to work to find a $2,000 computer stolen. In Cleveland, someone walks into an unlocked office and takes a $2,200 laptop belonging to the state auditor's office.

In Ohio, these scenarios not unusual, with state-issued computers frequently stolen or missing, according to a recent review of reports of stolen equipment by The Associated Press.

"State-owned and issued equipment is being misplaced or lost and stolen, and fundamentally that's not good," said Keith Dailey, a spokesman for Gov. Ted Strickland.

Strickland has ordered the State Highway Patrol to review reports of stolen computer equipment following the theft of a computer backup tape earlier this month. The tape contained personal information on state employees and the names and Social Security numbers of 225,000 taxpayers.

The patrol is investigating 11 reports of missing or stolen equipment this year, 26 last year and 32 in 2005, said Lt. Tony Bradshaw, an Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman.

In Columbus, for example, someone stole 12 laptops from the state highway department in a theft discovered in April, including a $4,500 computer used to record pavement conditions taken from a locked office, records show.

There have been frequent reports of employees taking laptops home and having them stolen from their cars.

On Sept. 18, 2006, a human services employee who lives in Westerville in suburban Columbus reported a $2,087 state-issued laptop was stolen from his car parked at his home.

Two months later, on Nov. 16, a Health Department employee in Columbus reported that a state-issued laptop was in her car in downtown Columbus when the $3,500 Dell computer went missing.

Twice in 2006, Ohio Turnpike Commission employees reported laptops stolen from their cars after stopping at different turnpike service plazas, patrol records show.

"If there's a lesson here, it's, 'Don't leave these types of equipment in your car,' said Jay Carey, a Health Department spokesman. "If they're not going to be in the office, have them locked up." The department's laptops did not contain sensitive data, he said.

State agencies are not the only ones suffering thefts.

In April, the Ohio House of Representatives reported three laptops stolen from House chambers. Each was valued at $1,100. The laptops contain no sensitive information and are used by lawmakers to look up bill information during legislative sessions, said House GOP spokeswoman Karen Tabor.

On July 25, 2006, the state's Court of Claims reported a $1,723 laptop stolen from a court office. The laptop was discovered missing during an annual inventory and Miles Durfey, the court's clerk, said court employees do not know when it was taken.

The biggest mass theft of computers involved the 12 that were taken from a Department of Transportation office near the agency's state headquarters on the west side of Columbus.

One of the computers was a $4,500 Panasonic laptop designed to be mounted in a car and built to withstand bouncing or bumping in a moving vehicle.

A security camera observed the theft and helped the state patrol determine a suspect, said Lindsay Komlanc, a highway department spokeswoman. Agency laptops are typically used to record data about road conditions and do not contain sensitive data, she said.

In the Department of Job and Family Services, 12 laptops went missing over three years, including five stolen from employees' homes or cars. The agency has about 1,500 laptops, said agency spokesman Dennis Evans.

The computer backup tape was stolen from an intern's car. Two weeks before that, a laptop holding injured workers' personal information was stolen from a state employee.

Strickland's order ended the practice of employees taking backup devices home for safekeeping. It and mandated a review of how state data is handled, including establishing a protocol for data encryption, a process by which electronic information is scrambled into an unrecognizable form.

"You can't prevent theft 100 percent obviously, and you probably can't even prevent the loss or misplacement of some equipment," Dailey said. "But you can significantly reduce the possibility of data theft by encrypting information in all of these laptops and data devices."

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