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The Government of Canada Keeps Losing BlackBerrys, Cash, and Weapons

$370 million worth of the government's property went MIA in 2014—including 11,000 cases of lost or stolen weapons and accessories valued at over $50,000—and much of it will never be recovered.

by Justin Ling
Dec 29 2014, 7:35pm

Photo via Flickr user Paul Gorbould

Last year, the government managed to lose $370 million in cash and equipment, including weapons, cases of BlackBerry phones, and tons of cold, hard, cash. Most of the disappeared assets still haven't been recovered. A good chunk of it is simply gone for good.

According to federal public accounts for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the government has a real problem looking after its stuff. And that raises both issues of security and privacy.

Across just about every department, bureaucrats have been losing government resources and writing them off. The taxmen and taxwomen at the Canada Revenue Agency lost $600 in "petty cash." The Department of Foreign Affairs wrote off $70,000, blaming it on the loss of "content of official mail." National Defence is by far the worst for misplacing its equipment—$2 million in lost "military specific equipment," another $2 million in lost technical equipment, over $500,000 in lost combat clothing, and 353 lost computers, worth more than $500,000.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which deals with many high-profile organized crime and terrorism cases, lost ten control access cards in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which isn't great.

And that's just the accidental losses—about $59 million, all in all, and only about $2 million of that has been, or is expected to be, recovered.

The government gets taken each year for another $1 million in theft and vandalism.

Someone stole a plasma television from the National Research Council of Canada ($361), while some no-goodnik made off with two beaver pelts from Aboriginal Affairs ($800), and yet another dastardly character lifted a carpet from Foreign Affairs ($2,123).

Most worrying overall, however, is how much weaponry goes AWOL from the Canadian military.

National Defence listed more than 11,000 cases of lost or stolen weapons and accessories this past year, valued at over $50,000. They managed to find some of their missing weaponry this year, but only about $10,000 worth.

Beyond merely being real Mr. Magoos with government weaponry, Canadian bureaucrats also have a bad habit of causing huge privacy breaches.

In 2013, Ottawa had to investigate after the Canada Student Loans Program misplaced a hard drive containing the personal information of some 580,000 students. That same month, a drive containing the personal information of 5,000 pensioners also went missing. Both programs were run by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). According to the public accounts, those losses might just be the tip of the iceberg.

The various departments and federal agencies lost at least eight flash and hard drives, 18 tablets, 182 cellphones, and a staggering 670 laptops and computers in just one year.

Health Canada couldn't find a USB key, Industry Canada managed to lose five servers, and National Defence couldn't find 376 computers.

But perhaps one of the most painfully ironic reports comes from none other than the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners. Between the two offices, they lost two BlackBerrys, two iPhones, and, worst of all, a top-of-the-line LaCie hard drive, which was never recovered. Given that it was valued at $300, it was likely a model with a capacity of two or three terabytes.

Now, you may be thinking: at least the Government of Canada is smart enough to secure hardware that might house large volumes of personal information, right?

Apparently not. When the privacy commissioner looked into the case of the missing student loan hard drive, which had could hold a terabyte of data, the office found that "the information contained on the hard drive was not encrypted and was not protected by a secure password."

The department supposedly changed its policies after the incident and began requiring encryption for anything containing personal information. Here's hoping, seeing as ESDC lost more than a dozen laptops and BlackBerrys last year.

It's not clear if other departments are following ESDC's lead and securing their information equipment.

Ottawa has also proved itself a real sucker when it comes to fraud. Hundreds of millions go down the drain every year thanks to tax fraud, fraudulent Employment Insurance claims, and general graft.

The government is out over $130 million thanks to pension, loan, and EI fraud. While the Harper government has talked a big game about cracking down on those who abuse the system, they still only managed to recuperate about one fifth of the loss. (The department says it's hoping to recover the remainder in future years.)

This whole thing isn't exactly a new problem, though—the government lost almost exactly the same amount of stuff five years ago, give or take $10 million.

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