U S disaster relief agency leaks private data of hurricane survivors


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is activating a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Mozambique to lead the U.S. Government's response to Cyclone Idai, which has caused catastrophic flooding, killed hundreds of people, and affected hundreds of thousands of others in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency exposed 2.3 million disaster survivors to possible identity theft, according to the new report.

To date, USAID has mobilized $700,000 in total assistance to support emergency water, sanitation, hygiene, and shelter needs in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi caused by torrential rain and flooding in early March, followed by Cyclone Idai. Of this, $200,000 is for relief efforts in Mozambique in response to the damage caused by Cyclone Idai, and $500,000 was provided to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi in response to the flooding earlier in the month.

Those exposed by the breach included survivors of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in 2017. The report finds Fema unnecessarily shared personal information, including bank details, with the outside contractor while applying for transitional sheltering in hotels, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General. The name of the contractor was not made public.

The USAID DART, an elite team of US disaster experts, will assess damage, identify humanitarian needs, and work closely with local authorities and humanitarian organizations on the ground to provide critical assistance to people affected by the cyclone. The storm, which has destroyed homes, livelihoods, and public infrastructure, follows a week of heavy rains and flooding across Southeast Africa that had already displaced tens of thousands of people.

Fema admitted the leak but said it had found no evidence that the improperly shared data was compromised.

“Since the discovery of this issue, Fema has taken aggressive measures to correct this error,” Fema press secretary Lizzie Litzow said in a statement. “Fema is no longer sharing unnecessary data with the contractor and has conducted a detailed review of the contractor’s information system,” she added.
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