The bad news: Two laptops containing personal information about every voter in Charlottesville have been stolen, Henry Graff reports for NBC-29. The good news: The data was encrypted, so there has almost certainly been no breach of privacy. On election night, after things shut down for the evening, somebody tossed a cinderblock through the front door of Tonsler and made off with the two systems. Voters’ names, addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers are stored on the computers. Laptops’ portability make them common targets of theft, and it’s inevitable that government systems containing confidential information will be stolen now and again. But if best practices are followed, and the data is encrypted, it’s not a disaster.
11/07 Update: The more I think about this, the more I figure that this story is fear-mongering on the part of NBC 29. (Compare to WINA or the DP’s coverage.) Wanting to know what else was in place, other than encryption, I checked with Charlottesville election official Rick Sincere, and he told me: “The laptops require multiple passwords to make them operable. The passwords are complex and difficult to remember.” They’re using Datacard’s Electronic Poll Book Solution, which you can read about in Rick’s October 2006 blog entry on the topic. Rick favors electronic voting, while I think it’s a security nightmare, but this is an example of everything apparently being done safely. If there’s reason to think that anybody’s confidential information has been breached here, Henry Graff hasn’t provided it—NBC 29 should stop making this claim if they can’t back it up.