Class action suit seeks $4.9 billion in damages from TRICARE data theft

Plaintiffs allege the military health care provider put personal and sensitive information at risk by failing to encrypt the tape.

This story has been updated.

An Air Force veteran of the first Iraq war and a military spouse and her two children have hit the Defense Department with a class action lawsuit seeking $4.9 billion in damages from the theft of a computer tape containing personal and sensitive health information from the car of an employee of Science Applications International Corp., a contractor with the TRICARE Health Management Activity. The company was not named as a defendant in the action.

The suit, filed Monday by the law firm Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker of Potomac, Md., seeks $1,000 in damages for all 4.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries whose records were on the computer tape stolen Sept. 13 from the SAIC employee's car in San Antonio. TRICARE and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are named as defendants.

Plaintiffs in the case are Virginia Gaffney of Hampton, Va., a TRICARE beneficiary described as the spouse of a decorated war veteran, along with her two dependent children, and Adrienne Taylor of Glendale, Ariz., an Air Force Operation Desert Storm veteran who also is a military spouse and TRICARE beneficiary.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges that TRICARE "flagrantly disregarded" the privacy rights of TRICARE beneficiaries by failing to take the necessary precautions to protect their identity. The complaint said data on the stolen computer tape was "unprotected, easily copied . . . [and TRICARE] inexplicably failed to encrypt the information."

TRICARE "compounded its dereliction of duty by authorizing an untrained or improperly trained individual to take the highly confidential information off of government premises and to leave unencrypted information in an unguarded car in a public location, from which it was stolen by an unknown party or parties," the suit alleged.

The "intentional, willful and reckless disregard of plaintiffs' privacy rights caused one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of Social Security numbers, medical records and other private information in recent history," the complaint charged.

TRICARE has acknowledged that the stolen computer tape contained a wealth of patient information including clinical notes, laboratory tests, prescriptions, diagnoses, treatment information, and provider names and locations.

But, when it announced the theft -- which it called a "data breach" -- on Sept. 30, TRICARE downplayed the ability of anyone to access the information on the tape. "The risk of harm to patients is judged to be low despite the data elements involved since retrieving the data on the tapes would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure," the military health program said.

The class action lawsuit disputed this assertion, alleging that "personal information on the computer tape could be retrieved by the name of an individual or by an identifying number, symbol or other identifying data assigned to an individual."

The theft of the computer tape, the complaint charged, has exposed the medical and personal information of all four plaintiffs to the possibility of identity fraud and resulted in "emotional upset" due to the invasion of privacy.

TRICARE declined to provide credit monitoring services in the wake of the tape theft, and, as a result, the complaint said, both Gaffney and Taylor purchased such services on their own to protect against identity theft, incurring an ongoing economic cost.

The lawsuit asked the court to direct TRICARE to provide free credit monitoring services to all 4.9 million beneficiaries whose personal information was on the stolen tape and to reimburse those who had already purchased such services on their own.

This could slam TRICARE with another hefty bill. When the Veterans Affairs Department discovers a loss, theft or exposure of this kind it routinely offers credit monitoring services and up to $1 million annually in identity theft protection at a cost per veteran of $29.95 a year. At that rate, it would cost TRICARE $146.8 million to provide credit monitoring services to 4.9 million people.

Shulman, Rogers also wants to use the lawsuit to reform what it considers poor practices by Defense and TRICARE to maintain the privacy of personal information. Defense and TRICARE, the suit said, "have repeatedly demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to implement or [have a] callous disregard for fundamental procedures to provide minimally acceptable safeguards to prevent against the disclosure of personal and private information in their possession."

The suit asks the court to bar TRICARE and Defense from transferring a record or system of records covered by the Privacy Act "until an independent panel of experts finds that adequate information security has been established."

The court also should prohibit Defense and TRICARE from transporting any records off government property unless they are fully encrypted, and SAIC should not be allowed to transport any records until an independent expert panel determines the company has established adequate information procedures, the lawsuit said.

TRICARE and SAIC declined to comment on the lawsuit.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.