updated 10/15/2007 6:55:36 PM ET 2007-10-15T22:55:36

Two laptop computers with detailed personal information about commercial drivers who transport hazardous materials across the United States are missing and considered stolen.

The laptops belong to a contractor working for the Transportation Security Administration and contain the names, addresses, birthdays, commercial driver's license numbers and, in some cases, Social Security numbers of 3,930 people, according to an Oct. 12 letter from TSA to lawmakers.

The contractor told the agency that the personal information was deleted from the computers before they were stolen, the letter stated. But after the second laptop was stolen, TSA investigators discovered that a person with data recovery skills could recover the personal information that the contractor deleted.

News of the security breach came the day before TSA is to begin collecting similar personal information from employees with access to areas at the port of Wilmington, Delaware. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program is set to launch in Wilmington on Tuesday. Eventually 750,000 employees with access to port areas across the United States will be required to submit information for background checks.

Since the two laptops were stolen, TSA has instructed the contractor to encrypt hard drives. The TSA program, called the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Threat Assessment, collects information for security-clearance purposes for any driver who transports hazardous materials.

These assessments were mandated in the Patriot Act, a law rushed through Congress in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that have drawn wide criticism from critics for its extensions of law enforcement powers.

The main contractor for the program is LexisNexis.

Early this year, TSA lost a computer hard drive with sensitive bank and payroll data for 100,000 employees.

Neither LexisNexis nor TSA immediately responded to requests for comment.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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