Australia: Government loses laptops

The Federal Attorney General department says it has nothing to hide over 17 missing laptops, despite Federal Opposition fears that the department has failed to answer questions about lost computer equipment because classified information had been compromised.

The Federal Attorney General department says it has nothing to hide over a number of missing laptops, despite Federal Opposition fears that the department, as well as three others, had failed to answer questions about lost computer equipment because classified information had been compromised.

Labor says that 541 laptop computers, costing AU$1.5 million, and AU$230,000 worth of computer equipment were reported lost or stolen by the federal government last year.

When four major departments -- Health, Defense, Attorney General and the Australian Taxation Office – failed to answer questions about the lost equipment in Senate Estimates in the second half of last year, it raised Opposition suspicions that the departments were “covering up” that damaging and/or confidential information had walked along with the equipment, a spokesperson for shadow minister for IT, Senator Kate Lundy, told ZDNet Australia.

The office for the Attorney General, Daryl Williams, which claims to have lost two laptops and had 15 pilfered across its portfolio of agencies but not from within its own department, says that it didn't explain itself before the Election was called due to a “communication breakdown in the department, not because there was something to hide”.

The seven Attorney General agencies that saw computer equipment do a disappearing act in 2001 were; the Australian Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Australian Federal Police, ASIO, Family Court, National Crime Authority, National Native Title Tribunal and the Department of Public Prosecution, spokesperson for the Attorney General, Catherine Fitzpatrick confirmed.

Fitzpatrick also said that the fact that all the agencies concerned had “very good encryption” meant confidential information couldn't have gone astray. “If you're not the user of that laptop, you'll not be able to access it,” she said.

However, Labor said this explanation was unsatisfactory and didn't take into consideration the fact that computer equipment could be stolen internally for personal use. “How do we know the person responsible for the laptop didn't take it?” asked Senator Lundy's spokesperson.

The federal Opposition said that resumption of Senate Estimates on February 18 would give it the opportunity to enquire further about the missing laptops and ask questions such as how much the replacement value of the equipment would cost the taxpayer and whether or not police investigations were being conducted into the vanishing computers.