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Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00

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Office Copiers Can Present Identity Theft Risk

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) ?Copier warehouses across the country are filled with row upon row of used machines ready for resale. But CBS 5 Investigates found many of them hold private and sensitive information never cleared from internal hard drives.

What most people think of as copy machines are these days known as "multi-function machines" that also scan, fax and even email. But to do all that, the machines store copies of documents on hard drives in a range of sizes.

John Juntenen founded a Sacramento-area company focused on securing copier data. He said the hard drives can hold as many as 25,000 documents.

His company, Digital Copier Security Inc., has found examples such as a high school student's record complete with photo and date of birth. They're records that schools are supposed to keep private. Finding tax returns is also not unusual.

"Basically, (it's) information that should not be out in the public domain. Social security numbers, medical records, financial records, employment records." said company analyst Sean O'Leary.

CBS 5 even saw a medical record that disclosed someone's HIV status.

And how hard is it to find a copier holding private data? CBS 5 Investigates went to a local East Bay copier warehouse with Juntenen where hundreds of machines wind up for sale after being traded in or sold.

Within a few minutes, just by powering up a copier and looking at the logs of past jobs, Juntenen found lists of personal and business email addresses. And on a second copier, among other documents, he pointed out a good faith estimate for a mortgage loan.

"Somebody had apparently scanned it in or printed it out," Juntenen said.

A hard drive analyzed by CBS 5's sister station KOVR in Sacramento contained documents outlining business transactions among some well-known names and organizations: billionaire George Soros' Economic Development Fund, the non-profit Omidyar Network, set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and Google.

Another document, a contacts list, held the home phone number for Caroline Kennedy.

And privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, are concerned.

"This was actually a complete surprise to me," said EFF staff technologist Seth Schoen.

Schoen said copiers represent a major privacy loophole.

"Potentially all of that information is available to anyone who by chance buys the machine or wants to go looking for it. So that sounds like a pretty large scale problem to me," he said.

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