Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 4 News List

CDC leaks TB patients' records

GOOGLE POWER A list of patients restricted from traveling abroad was available on the Internet after Google's search engine breached Centers for Disease Control computers

By Ho Yu-hua, Wu Ching-hui, Allen Tsai and Huang Li-hsiang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) came under fire after a list it compiled of tuberculosis (TB) patients restricted from traveling abroad was found to be available on the Internet.

The list, which came into use on Sept. 1, lists the national identification numbers, addresses and the dates of medical visits of 953 individuals.

The CDC apologized profusely to the public for the breach of privacy, citing system errors.

It promised that related parties will be held accountable and that compensation will be given to any member of the public whose rights have been infringed upon.

The leaked data was discovered after the Taipei County Department of Health made public the age and place of residence of a TB patient in Banciao yesterday.

Using the information, a reporter was able to track down detailed information about the patient using Google.

DAMAGE CONTROL

Once the center became aware of the situation, it immediately deployed damage control measures. The Information and Communication Security Technology Center was notified and the list of patients was removed. The server was also taken off line to determine the cause of the breach and a request was made to Google to remove the cached contents of the Web page.

Shih Wen-i (施文儀), the deputy director-general of the CDC, explained that the database was designed internally, with password protected accounts.

However, the system had design flaws that were breached by Google's powerful search engines. The information has been available since Nov. 9, but the patient's name is needed to access the data, hence the CDC estimates that the damage should not be widespread.

Shih emphasized that the CDC would like to apologize to all parties concerned. A telephone hotline is being set up to deal with complaints.

The Consumer's Foundation will also provide channels for the public to seek compensation.

OFFLINE

The CDC has taken its systems offline and said that it will reboot them only after extensive security tests.

The Department of Health will establish a special investigation team to hold responsible parties accountable.

The TB patient in Banciao is currently staying at home and receiving treatment.

Huang Ching-yao (黃敬堯), chief of the Taipei County Department of Health Disease Control Division, said that the patient only became aware of his condition on Thursday, even though he sought medical advice on Nov. 7, as he could not be reached by healthcare workers.

Huang also said that people who have inhabited an enclosed space for more than eight hours with TB patients are at high risk of infection.

There were four co-workers who shared an office with the patient, but as each of them had different schedules, the length of cohabitation was not long enough to present a high risk of infection.

Each has undergone medical examinations and all four were determined to be free of symptoms of the disease.

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