Sensitive personal data from old computers could end up falling into the hands of identity thieves because local councils are giving out bad advice to people on computer recycling.
The magazine Computing Which? telephoned more than 100 councils across the UK asking for information on how to safely recycle old computers. It found that one in seven authorities could not say what would happen with a computer after it was sent for recycling.
Most local authorities did not seem to know much about the safety of personal data stored on old PCs and did not give advice to customers on deleting data before recycling their computers. Computing Which? editor Sarah Kidner said that the lack of advice given out to clients could mean that the local tip becomes a hunting ground for identity thieves.
Last week (www.mrw.co.uk Mar 4 2008) computer recycling and disposal firm IT Green highlighted problems with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and its director Richard Johnson is not shocked by this recent report. He said: Panorama ran a similar story about IT theft last year with computers ending up in the Ivory Coast.
Many recycling centres, run as part of local authority private finance initiative schemes, are not geared up to cope with WEEE and cannot recycle or store old computers. They do not have the financial backing to set up a WEEE collection centre.
But authorities have a duty of care towards their clients because the general public has to pay for services through their council tax. Councils are then obliged to provide advice on how best to dispose of old PCs.
One of the mainstays of the WEEE Directive was to have a special category for the recovery and recycling of IT equipment. If you get a local authority which has a special recycling centre for fridges, how the hell can they recycle computers as well when the place is set up to recycle fridges?
Nine times out of ten you can go to a recycling centre and buy the old PCs which have been dumped. You just give £5 to a waste manager and that is it. Most of these PCs are shipped to another country without the hard drive being wiped.
There has been an interest in people wanting to recycle old computers, including growing awareness around environmental issues.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: Councils work hard to ensure that the right advice is given to people the first time of asking. Local authorities will closely examine the Which? Report and ensure that ID fraud from computers is kept to an absolute minimum. While information at the first point of call may have, on occasions, needed improving, council professionals will ensure that people do not fall victim of identity theft.
Johnson added that the only way to solve the problem of identity theft was for local authorities to get their WEEE waste contractors to sign contracts stating that all forms data would be erased hard drive.