By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 6/5/2006 4:46:47 PM ET 2006-06-05T20:46:47

A laptop computer containing fingerprints of Internal Revenue Service employees is missing, MSNBC.com has learned.

The computer was lost during transit on an airline flight in the western United States, IRS spokesman Terry Lemon said. No taxpayer information was on the lost laptop, Lemon said.

In all, the IRS believes the computer contained information on 291 employees and job applicants, including fingerprints, names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth. The fingerprints had been collected as part of a normal background screening process. Some job applicants’ information also was also on the computer.

“Right now the laptop is classified as missing. We don't know if it was stolen,” Lemon said. 

Nothing on the computer would put taxpayer information at risk, Lemon said. The fingerprints and other data could be not used to falsify an IRS ID badge, he said. The matter has been turned over the to IRS inspector general’s office.

“Our taxpayer data is on completely different systems,” he said.  “No taxpayer data is involved.”

Lemon said he could not narrow the list of people who might be on the computer, other than to say they were from “western and Midwest” regions.  The IRS has attempted to contact all 291 people by telephone, and will soon send a notification letter to each affected employee and applicant.

Data on the laptop was not encrypted, Lemon said, but it was “double password protected,” meaning someone would have to enter two different passwords to access the data. He said there is no indication the data had been used to commit ID theft.

The story echoes news last month that a Veterans Administration employee had lost a laptop computer containing 26 million veterans’ Social Security numbers. That laptop was apparently stolen during a house burglary.

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