FEMA illegally released private info of disaster victims

FEMA shared 2.3 million disaster survivors' personal information with contractor

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released private information of more than 2 million survivors of hurricanes and fires in 2017 to a contractor against federal privacy law, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general said.

This includes personal and banking information, per a report released by the Inspector General's office in the Department of Homeland Security.

The victims were enrolled in a programme called Transitional Sheltering Assistance, which provides hotels to people displaced by disasters. "FEMA is no longer sharing unnecessary data with the contractor and has conducted a detailed review of the contractor's information system", Litzow stated in this CNN report.

Authorities said Fema shared participants' home addresses and bank account information with a third party contractor. The report didn't name the contractor.

"FEMA has taken aggressive action to mitigate the issues raised within this report and strengthen the protection of survivor data", Joel Doolin, a FEMA associate administrator, said in its response.

Litzow said the agency has removed unnecessary information from the contractor's computer systems.

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There were no indications that the data had been compromised, the agency said in a statement Friday night.

A memo from FEMA to the Inspector General's Office dated March 8 said the agency considered any "unnecessary sharing of survivor data to be a serious matter", and it was "dedicating substantial resources" to address it.

In a response to a draft of the inspector general's memo given to FEMA before its public release, the agency said it stopped sending unnecessary information to the vendor December 7, after it learned about the practice from auditors.

In particular, FEMA struggled to deliver food and water in a timely fashion to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria killed almost 3,000 people and left the island's 3.7 million residents without electricity for several months.

The agency noted that it's working with the contractor to scrub the data and mandated staff to complete additional privacy training.

The privacy breach is likely to prompt further criticism of an agency that was stretched to its limit in the second half of 2017 as it responded to a string of record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

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