City makes additional changes in attempt to stop sale of personal info at auctions

For the second time in less than a year, the City of Houston is changing the way it gets rid of outdated electronics. Each time the changes came after KHOU 11 Investigates found the city mistakenly sold personal information at city auctions.

HOUSTON - For the second time in less than a year, the City of Houston is changing the way it gets rid of outdated electronics.

Each time the changes came after KHOU 11 Investigates found the city mistakenly sold personal information at city auctions.

It started last spring when a licensed private investigator said he bought a file cabinet from the city that contained old computer discs filled with hundreds of names, social security numbers and financial information. In response, the city changed its policy and prohibited the sale of used electronics.

But months later, KHOU 11 Investigates again found city computers available through an online auction website.

We bought dozens of the used computers and sent them to the digital forensics experts at E-Investigations. A search of those machines turned up more personal information including medical records, financial forms and other sensitive details.

So how did it happen despite the ban on the sale of used computers? It turns out not all city departments had to follow that rule.

Thirty-three of the computers KHOU 11 Investigates bought for less than $100 came from a Houston Airport System auction.

“Obviously, these computers were not processed according to the procedures we've had in place for a long time and that's bothersome,” explained airport spokesman Bill Begley. 

He says all memory should have been pulled out of the computers before they were sold.

This week, KHOU 11 Investigates returned the computers to HAS to help the airport figure out what went wrong and how many people’s information may be involved.

“It’s allowed us to take a look at our processes, and the importance of being thorough, and the importance of information security” Begley said.

The airport has implemented a new plan for trashing used computers and will no longer sell them.

Meanwhile, a city spokeswoman confirms the new policy for getting rid of electronics could be ready as soon as next week.

When asked if it would mean a single, uniform policy for all departments this time around, the spokesman replied, “For the most part, yes.”

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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