Think this post's headline is ironic? Barry Feld disagrees.
"It's not ironic. It's a disaster," he told us this afternoon. "There's been an enormous amount of collateral damage here."
Feld, a University of Minnesota law professor who's described on his U of M website as "one of the nation's leading scholars of juvenile justice," is referring to the theft of an external hard drive in his possession that contained the personal data of nearly 300 people.
The hard drive contained names, phone numbers, birth dates, and, in some cases, social security numbers, all of which were derived from police and court filings. With the help of a court order, Feld gathered the data for research he was doing for a book on criminal interrogations in Minnesota.
"Some of the stuff in the police reports was public information, but the reports also included information about victims and witnesses that would've been private," Feld said.
The theft occurred in February of last year when Feld's secretary left a bag containing the hard drive unmonitored by her desk in the U of M law school. (The story is just breaking publicly now because one of the victims recently contacted the media.)
"An opportunistic thief just walked by, grabbed the bag and walked away with it," Feld said.
The Hennepin County and Ramsey County court and criminal records involved in the theft were from 2004, as Feld was researching interrogations pertaining to cases that were closed, with no ongoing appeals.
Since the data is a decade old, it hasn't been possible to find current contact information for all the victims involved, Feld said, adding that no financial information was included in the records and that nobody has been defrauded as a result of the theft to the best of his knowledge.
"Credit monitoring is available to all the [victims], in the same way that Target is doing now with their data theft," Feld said. "But the thief had no actual way of knowing what the bag contained. If somebody opened the hard drive they would've just seen a bunch of PDF files, interrogation transcripts, police reports and stuff like that, and they most likely would've just deleted the files since they'd detract from the value of the hardware."
Feld decided to discontinue his book project after the theft.
(To find out why, click to page two.)
Asked why, he said, "Well, I had breached my commitment to the county attorneys and the courts to protect the data, and it was sort of a mutual agreement that I had not been a responsible custodian of the data."
But ultimately, Feld said the worst thing about the story is the trauma the data breach may have inflicted on the victims.
"I'm really sorry for all the damage that was caused by my failure to adequately protect the data, and my secretary's failure to secure it, and the work of the opportunistic thief," Feld said. "The combination of all those factors caused damage to the victims, and the people who received these letters [notifying them of the theft] were reminded about a terrible experience they suffered."
"It caused a terrible burden to the U to have to deal with the ramifications of all this and it cost me a great research project," he added.