| The Bank of America tower in New York. (AFP)
Washington, Feb. 26 (Reuters): Computer tapes containing credit card records of US Senators and more than a million American government employees are missing, Bank of America said yesterday, putting the customers at increased risk of identity theft.
The security breach, which included data on a third of the Pentagon's staff, angered lawmakers already concerned after criminals gained access to thousands of consumer profiles in a database maintained by a data profiling company, ChoicePoint Inc.
Bank of America Corp. did not release details of how the tapes were lost, but Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he had been informed by the Senate Rules Committee that the data tapes were likely stolen off a commercial plane by baggage handlers.
'Whether it is identity theft, terrorism or other theft, in this new and complicated world baggage handlers should have background checks and more care should be taken for who is hired for these increasingly sensitive positions,' Schumer said.
Social security numbers, addresses and account numbers were on the tapes for 1.2 million account holders, of which about 900,000 belonged to the defence department employees, defence department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The tapes contained information from the accounts of dozens of US Senators and from employees of federal agencies, officials monitoring the situation said.
Bank of America said the small number of computer data tapes were lost in December while being shipped to a back-up data centre.
It said there was no evidence of crime resulting from the loss but the US secret service was investigating the case.
Although the tapes were lost months ago, bank officials were only allowed to notify cardholders when they received permission from federal law enforcement authorities, Bank of America spokeswoman Eloise Hale said.
'The investigation to date has found no evidence to suggest the tapes or their content have been accessed or misused, and the tapes are now presumed lost,' the bank said in a statement.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he hoped the fact that Senate information was among the lost data would spur Congress to pay attention to a 'rapid erosion of privacy rights' due to faulty data security.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it would monitor customer accounts detailed on the data tapes and cardholders would be contacted if unusual activity is detected. It said government cardholders would not be liable for unauthorised use of their cards.
Officials at the General Services Administration, which manages federal employee travel credit card accounts, could not be reached for comment but US banking regulators said they were tracking the case.
'The bank notified us and we've been monitoring the situation,' said Kevin Mukri, a spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates Bank of America.
It routinely ships back-up data tapes for storage at different locations in case any offices are damaged by fires or flood.
The defence department has posted information about the issue for its employees on its website (www.defenselink.mil).