A Guy Got Drunk Enough to Lose An Entire City’s Personal Data

A Guy Got Drunk Enough to Lose An Entire City’s Personal Data
Photo: Peter Forest, Getty Images

We’ve all been there: you go out drinking for a night on the town, down a few drinks, only to wake up with something… missing; maybe it’s your wallet, or your keys, or your phone. Or maybe, if it’s the case of one unnamed contractor working out of Japan, it’s a flash drive holding the personal information of about half a million residents.

According to the national outlet NHK, which first reported the incident late last week, the unidentified dude was a contractor working with the city of Amagasaki, specifically tasked with dispersing subsidies to residents that were hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Details about those specific residents — and the rest of Amagasaki’s 465,177 taxpayers — were held on a single flash drive, which somehow found its way into a bag that he took with him for a Wednesday bender.

Several hours of boozing later, he woke up on the street nearby the bar. The bag and flash drive nowhere to be seen. While we don’t know how good a night the guy had (or how bad his hangover was), we do know what was on that drive, courtesy of an incident report he filed with the municipality. And it turns out that humble drive held… quite a bit of data! At the very least, he’d lost:

  • Basic information for all 460,517 Amagasaki citizens — including their names, birthdays, addresses, genders, and “date of becoming a resident.”
  • Tax information for about 360,573 residents, along with intel about which tens of thousands of households were given certain tax exemptions.
  • Account information from about 86,000 households receiving welfare benefits, child support, or both.

It’s a pretty sticky situation if that intel gets out. What’s worse is that according to the incident report, the worker was authorised to process data outside of the city’s halls, and in his company’s workplace under certain conditions — but Amagasaki officials didn’t check up on him to make sure he was following protocols when he went out for his boozy dinner.

While the report notes that the files on that USB were encrypted and password protected, people were still (rightfully) a bit peeved. Within two days of that incident report going out, local reports noted the city’s lines were flooded with over 30,000 calls and complaints from citizens worried that this data might be used for identity theft or fraud. A notice quickly went up to alert people about potential scammers posing local officials, and extorting people out of cash in order to get their data back.

The good news here is that local police found the bag pretty soon after — and there was no proof that anyone tried to crack into that USB or change the password, officials said. The contracting company issued a public apology in the local Amagasaki press, and the city’s mayor did the same.

Though everything on that drive looks kosher, the city’s says it’s still trying to assess whether any of that data has been leaked. Hopefully that contractor’s night on the town was worth this ongoing headache.