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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Public Records > Government Databases > The Veterans Administration Computer System


The Veterans Administration Computer System

The Veterans Administration (VA) maintains large amounts of records that allow it to manage its finances, oversee its employees, deliver health care to military veterans, and pay benefits. The VA has not taken sufficient steps to protect electronic data that it maintains. It has caused invasions of the privacy of employees and put at risk the privacy of American veterans.

Testimony in September 2000 revealed to the House Veterans Affairs Committee that a security company hired by the VA's Office of Inspector General had no trouble breaking in to the VA's computer system and taking total control of it. An assistant inspector general at VA was reported saying that the hackers "owned the system" and that the VA didn't even know its systems were attacked. The hackers-for-hire had access to the confidential data of veterans, including their personal histories, and medical and financial information, in addition to VA's internal data and business systems.

As comprehensive as the databases at the VA are, they are ripe targets for people who may collect personal information from them and use it to harm American veterans and their families. Poor computer security at the VA allowed employees to write themselves more than $1.2 million in fraudulent benefit checks, and dozens more fraud cases have been reported under investigation.

In November 2000, the VA was sued under the Privacy Act by a group of employees. They alleged that an internal patient record system at VA allowed employees' personal information to appear along with medical information about patients. VA employees allegedly used the system routinely to look up personal and private information about their colleagues.


Links:

Veterans Department Sued by Employees Over Breach of Privacy by D. Ian Hopper, Associated Press (November 3, 2000) [excerpt]

Hearing II on Information Technology House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (September 21, 2000)

VA Information Technology: Progress Continues Although Vulnerabilities Remain, Testimony of Joel C. Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems, before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs (September 21, 2000)

Comments? comments@privacilla.org (Subject: VA)

[updated 04/17/02]



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