Australian hard drives dumped in poverty-stricken Ghana as part of a massive e-waste drop in the country, which has spawned an investigation by the Australian Government, may potentially lead to identity theft and the exposure of confidential corporate documents.
A report on SBS's Dateline program last night revealed that western countries across the globe, including Australia, had been illegally dumping some 500 containers worth of e-waste such as TVs, monitors and computers into Ghana every month.
While many locals scavenge the waste for copper and other valuable resources, local journalist Enoch Messiah said getting private information from hard drives was also possible and demonstrated accessing personal information from one of the dumped hard drives.
"So what we're doing now, we're going to see what we can find, what information on this hard drive. So you go to 'data recovery'. You can find personal information, company information," he said. "So people can take information and then use it to frame you up or do something against you."
Adrian Briscoe, general manager of Asia Pacific for data recovery company Kroll Ontrack, told ZDNet Australia that it wouldn't be uncommon to find data still on hard drives that have been designated as e-waste.
"A lot of people give over their computers with the idea that they're going to be erased properly and then dismantled in a proper and green way, but obviously that's not the case."
Briscoe advised that the best methods to ensure data is completely removed was to use software that overrides the hard-drive sectors seven times, or to physically wipe the hard drive using a degausser that pulses the drive with electromagnetic radiation. Briscoe said it was vital to personally ensure the data is erased before getting rid of old hard drives.
"As soon as you lose the physical control of your hard drive, you lose control of your data," he said. "I don't think people necessarily understand the dangers of just releasing a computer back ... they have no guarantee that once they release a computer physically, that the data won't turn up again because they have not actually witness the data being erased."
The Australian Government told Dateline that it doesn't have specific records of how many shipments have been sent to Ghana, but that 15 containers of e-waste have been prevented from leaving Australian ports in the last two years. The Department of Sustainability and Environment has since launched an investigation into e-waste dumping in Ghana.
The government recently passed legislation mandating a co-regulatory scheme for computer and TV recycling in Australia, set to be phased in at the end of this year.