Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Monday, April 14, 2014 at 4:43 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

Editorial: Scrub state PCs of data before selling

A spot-check of surplus state computers offers a caution to anyone who junks an old computer — data can linger even after a delete.


Seattle Times Editorial

advertising

DOWN around Olympia, one can find the best bargains on computer gear at the state surplus store in Tumwater. One can get laptops for $60, monitors for $35. And sometimes, apparently, other people’s Social Security numbers for free.

A recent spot-check by the state Auditor’s Office indicated that 9 percent of surplus computers disposed by the state contained confidential information. Things like birth dates, medical records and tax information. And, in one case, naughty pictures.

There is no evidence any of that information has been misused, but the volume of obsolete computer gear disposed by state and other public agencies raises the possibility.

They discard computers by the palletful — 10,000 a year — some to schools and some to surplus sales. Hard drives are supposed to be wiped of information, but it takes more than a stroke of the delete key — restoring a data file is not hard. Most people savvy enough to shop at a computer-surplus store probably know that.

Washington state’s record is better than other states’. State Auditor Troy Kelley was duplicating an inquiry that has been tried elsewhere. In 2009, New Jersey state officials found 79 percent of surplus computers had confidential information; in 2007 Utah found 74 percent. Kelley’s office conducted a weighted sample of the 1,200 computers that were surplused last summer. Just 11 of 177 contained confidential information.

Any number is too many. State agencies are pledging to do a better job of following their own rules: wiping data and making sure it’s gone. And they should.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►