Editorial – The $54 Million Question

Ever seen a $54 million laptop? Well, an American woman has?or, more to the point, she hasn’t, which is what makes her think her laptop is worth all that dough.

According to the CBC, Raelyn Campbell took her laptop to electronics giant Best Buy to have some warranty repairs done. After waiting the six weeks anticipated for the repairs, there was no word on her computer. After three months of phone calls to the store’s helpline, Campbell learned Best Buy had lost her laptop.

In November, she filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., Superior Court?for $54 million. She says Best Buy did not notify her of the computer’s loss and offered an ?insulting? $900 in compensation. (For their part, Best Buy says Campbell accepted their offer of $1,100.35 for the laptop plus a $500 gift card for her troubles.)

So where does the $54 million come in? After talking to a lawyer, Campbell decided to sue Best Buy because she believes the loss of the computer has left her open to identity theft. It seems that before taking her laptop to the store, she left a lot of very personal information on the hard drive, including her tax returns. By suing the company, she plans to ?draw attention to the loss and the risk of identity theft.?

?It’s not 54 million dollars for a lost computer and content,? Campbell told reporters. ?It’s 54 million dollars to try to motivate Best Buy to address its policies and expose another area that leaves people at risks of ID theft.?

Quite frankly, this lawsuit shouldn’t get as far as a boot sequence. In this case, the only person responsible for her private information is Campbell, and if she was that concerned about the risk of identity theft, she’d have done due diligence and removed the data from her computer before handing it over to someone else.

At first glance, her situation may seem parallel to data losses by governments and companies around the world. In November, the British government lost 25 million child benefit records (including names, birthdates, addresses, National Insurance numbers and bank details). In December, a Cardiff HM Revenue and Customs office lost personal details for 6,500 pension customers. In January, a computer tape in the U.S. went missing; it contained financial and other personal information for 650,000 customers of J.C. Penney and as many as 100 other stores.

But there’s a key difference: in each of those cases, customers were required to hand over that information as part of the transaction. The organizations collecting the information made it a condition of doing business (be it child benefits, credit cards, or pensions), and as soon as they do so they must assume responsibility for keeping that data safe.

In part, Campbell is right when she insists, ?America’s largest consumer electronics retailer [should] have policies that protect its customers.? When stores, governments, or any other agencies require personal information, they should be bound to protect it.

But the responsibility to safeguard information also falls on individuals, especially when that data is completely within their control. None of the personal data on Campbell’s laptop was requested by the store. She handed it over freely and, as it turns out, carelessly. So before she sues the retailer for poor privacy policies, she might do well to take a closer look at her own.