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5/24/2007

Energy

BREACH OF SECURITY
Airport screeners have yet another reason to be upset with their employer

 

Add one more complaint to a growing list of problems at Orlando International Airport.

Screeners there have repeatedly groused about low morale, favoritism and discrimination [“Up in the air,” March 27]. They’ve also gone on record with accusations of poor management and cronyism [“Why the OIA screeners hate their jobs,” Sept. 21, 2006].

So the latest snafu may come as no surprise. The Transportation Security Administration allegedly released the personal information of about 100,000 current and former transportation security officers nationwide, and the agency is being sued.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Department of Homeland Security workers, including TSA screeners and managers, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia May 8, alleging a privacy breach when TSA lost an external hard drive which contained employees’ names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and payroll and bank information. The lost data affected workers employed at TSA between January 2002 and August 2005.

Several union groups and screeners also signed on to the suit, including Orlando-based Local 1, which has about 300 members of the airport’s 800 screeners, and TSA Local 1 president Don Thomas.

“It’s embarrassing and unacceptable to have this level of incompetence in charge of our airline safety,” notes Thomas, who says employees are angry but not surprised.

Plaintiffs allegedly received word of the breach by e-mail days before the lawsuit was filed. According to the suit, those contacted were told what information was contained on the missing hard drive and asked to be alert for signs of misuse of their identities. “We are notifying you out of an abundance of caution at this early stage of the investigation given the significance of the information contained on the device. We apologize that your information may be subject to unauthorized access, and I deeply regret this incident,” the e-mail states, according to the affidavit.

“Unfortunately there were not many options because there is no collective bargaining agreement. The option of sitting down and negotiating was not there,” says Emily Ryan, an AFGE spokeswoman.

Congress cleared a bill that will give the union collective bargaining rights earlier this year, but it has yet to be signed into law.

“There’s been lots of other incidents and situations,” Ryan notes. In fact, numerous screeners have complained their personal information was unlawfully released in recent years.

In a letter dated April 26, 2006, Robert Banks, a screener at OIA, notified TSA brass that unqualified workers were processing paperwork for two separate incidents; a heart attack Banks suffered, and his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.

“I am much disturbed that ordinary screening officers, lead officers, and supervisory officers with un-vetted résumés and backgrounds are processing this information,” he later wrote in a complaint. “None of these officers were hired under the strict hiring policies of human resources departments. They were hired by NCS Pearson Inc., a company who can’t even produce the original hiring applications of the screeners they hired.”

Banks says that a form he was advised to fill out days before he wrote the complaint asked for personal information, including his Social Security number, his spouse’s date of birth, his checking account number, military information and workers’ compensation case numbers. In addition, he was asked for medical records and annuity information.

Sari Koshetz, a DHS spokeswoman, says the agency would rather focus on the incident and protecting employees, not the lawsuit.

“The U.S. Secret Service and TSA’s Office of Intelligence are conducting an extensive investigation, not only of this incident, but of TSA’s larger information technology and physical security measures. We will do whatever it takes to solve this issue and recover the device, and are treating this as a criminal matter as well as an internal review,” Koshetz says.

She adds there has been no evidence suggesting that the data has been compromised and that the agency implemented credit monitoring and insurance measures to protect employees.

The AFGE, which represents more than 600,000 federal workers, is not buying it.

“TSA’s reckless behavior is clearly in violation of the law,” says AFGE national president John Gage. “TSA must be held liable for this wanton disregard for employee privacy.”

dsheffield@orlandoweekly.com
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