Charity defends PC recycling after data theft claims

Businesses thinking of donating PCs to the developing world should check that the organisation they are dealing with has the correct data-erasure standards in place
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

IT charity Computer Aid has asked potential donors not to be put off from giving it old PCs, following reports that some machines donated to the developing world still contain confidential information.

Responding to recent reports which claimed that criminal gangs in Nigeria were able to find confidential data stored on refurbished PCs sent from the UK, Computer Aid chief executive Tony Roberts insisted that there are safe ways to donate machines to developing countries.

"We urge all businesses and organisations, as well as the general public, to continue to donate old PCs to charities such as Computer Aid International. After all, just one PC can provide 50 children in the developing world with 120 hours of access to essential IT skills," he said.

Since being set up in 1997, Computer Aid has refurbished and distributed around 70,000 PCs to schools and other public sector organisations, mainly in Africa and Asia.

BBC investigation earlier this month claimed to have found that bank account details from thousands of UK citizens had been sold in Nigeria for less then £20 each, because information held on the hard drive of recycled PCs was not being deleted.
But Roberts claimed Computer Aid is the only UK charity that uses software from data-erasure specialist Blancco, which meets government and military Communications Electronics Security Group (CESG) standards.

The BBC's Real Story investigation found that many of the PCs it found on sale in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos had come from UK council recycling points and had not had their hard drives erased correctly.
Roberts added that any business thinking of donating PCs should find out what the organisation's policy is on damaged hard drives. "Some damaged drives cannot be accessed and therefore cannot have all data wiped. All hard drives that cannot be wiped are destroyed by Computer Aid International on-site," he said.

The BBC investigation was initiated following research carried out by Glamorgan University and sponsored by BT and IT disposal specialists Life Cycle Services. Researchers tested around 200 hard drives dumped in the UK. Of the 118 still working, 10 per cent had financial details, and only 31 percent had been wiped.

Computer Aid runs a project called BridgeTheDigitalDivide.com in conjunction with CNET Networks, publishers of ZDNet UK.

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