Ohio Budget Director: State Overreacted in Response to Data Theft

August 7, 2007

Several Ohio state officials told investigators they believed the state was overreacting in its response to the theft of a sensitive computer backup tape, which could now cost $3 million as more individuals sign up for identity-theft protection services, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Budget Director Pari Sabety told investigators there was “a passionate debate” within state government about how to respond to the theft. Some officials, including Sabety, argued that the state’s pledge to pay for the protection services was unnecessary, according to transcripts of interviews from the Ohio inspector general’s office obtained by The Columbus Dispatch.

The tape, which backed up files from the state’s new payroll and accounting system, was stolen out of an intern’s car in June. It contained the names, Social Security numbers, and banking information for roughly 1.1 million individuals, businesses and other entities.

From the first day Gov. Ted Strickland announced the theft, officials stressed publicly that it was highly unlikely the information would be accessed because doing so would require a high degree of knowledge and specialized equipment.

Strickland announced the state would pay for identity protection services, and the number of people signing up for the services has continued to climb, the Dispatch reported.

The state is paying $9.25 for each affected individual. More than 179,500 people began the enrollment process as of Friday, Aug. 3rd said Ohio Department of Administrative Services spokesman Ron Sylvester.

The state this week authorized an additional $616,000. The state had already approved $1.5 million, and another $731,000 went mostly to printing and mailing notification letters.

“The wise decision is to lean on the side of being cautious,” said Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey.

But Sabety told investigators that the state’s response suggested the risk of the data being breached was higher than it actually was.

“I believe we were overreacting and overcompensating given the physical attributes of the device,” Sabety said, according to interview transcripts. Sabety added that it was a matter of opinion “over which reasonable people can differ.”

Hugh Quill, director of the Department of Administrative Services, told investigators that even state experts had trouble reading a duplicate of the tape.

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