A self storage manager of a Northern Virginia facility came across 69 boxes of Arlington National Cemetery burial records on June 10 inside an abandoned storage unit. The discovery has triggered a criminal investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives which says the incident has raised questions of privacy issues and indicates another sign of management problems at the Army-run cemetery.
It is unclear how the sensitive records wound up in a private storage facility. The manager of the facility called Arlington Cemetery’s hotline after he went to clear out the unit that he hadn’t received payments on. The cemetery then notified the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s veterans disability and memorial affairs panel, disclosed the records discovery which is now being investigated by a house subcommittee.
The records contained full names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of veterans and family members buried with them. The Boxes of copies of grave cards used to record burials were apparently given to a contractor who has supposed to help create a database of burials. Army criminal investigators seized the files, and a determination was made that there was a “low” risk of privacy concerns, said Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program.
“The first time we knew the records were stored off-site was when we got a call from the new owner of the storage facility,” Condon said.
During a hearing on the matter, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said he found it “extremely troubling that boxes containing this kind of information were left unsecured and only discovered allegedly due to a lack of payment for the use of a storage facility. . . . I take this breach very seriously.”
The storage unit was being rented by an employee of a company that the cemetery had hired to digitize its burial records, cemetery officials said. The cemetery had paid millions to a few companies in failed attempts to create a digital database of its paper records.
News of the discovered records was slow to come to the public’s attention. Rep. Runyan said he was “less pleased with the lack of follow up and public disclosure.”
Condon said the cemetery had not notified the public about the find because the records belonged to the dead and the Social Security numbers “are no longer in use.”
“If there was a potential where we thought that there was current personal identifying information, we would have immediately notified not only the families and put out a press release,” she said.
Because the records pertain to those who are deceased, there is little possibility of identity theft although people “can always find a way to abuse information,” said Paul Stephens, policy director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit agency that tracks security breaches.
Davenport, Christain and Davis, Aaron C. “Copies of Arlington Records Found in Storage Facility.” The Washington Post. June 23, 2011.
Maze, Rick. “Arlington Records Abandoned in Storage Unit.” Air Force Times. June 23, 2011.