Warning issued to computer recyclers

PEOPLE wanting to recycle out-dated computer equipment have been warned they should make sure all data is properly erased before handing it over.The advice came after two computers recovered in Africa were found to contain personal information about residents of Essex.

By Roddy Ashworth

PEOPLE wanting to recycle out-dated computer equipment have been warned they should make sure all data is properly erased before handing it over.

The advice came after two computers recovered in Africa were found to contain personal information about residents of Essex.

The computers had been given by their owners to an Essex County Council recycling centre in 2000 and then forwarded to an Environment Agency approved company for distribution.


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They eventually ended up in Nigeria where BBC journalists obtained them as part of an investigation into identity theft.

The journalists took the machines to a computer expert in Sweden who managed to extract details about their previous owners.

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Yesterday a spokeswoman for Essex County Council said it was the owners' responsibility to ensure that data was properly erased when giving computers away for recycling.

She added: “Essex County Council feels it is best practice to make sure that resources, such as computers, are reused where possible.

“When a resident leaves a computer at one of the recycling centres for household waste across the county we assess if it can be reused for its original purpose. It is then passed onto one of our approved organisations.

“We would encourage residents to continue to use the correct and proper routes to reuse, recycle or dispose of their computers once they no longer require them.

“We would also strongly suggest that they make sure all personal data is removed from the hard drive, as they would remove bank statements etc from a filing cabinet they no longer want.

“It is not the responsibility of Essex County Council to ensure that personal data is deleted from computers.”

Yesterday a spokesman for Suffolk-based Waste Electronic Recycling Management (WERM) said that more than 100,000 people are affected by identity theft in the UK every year at a cost of more than £1.7 billion.

He added that personal computers were the major source of identity theft.

The spokesman said the only way to guarantee eradication of data was by using sophisticated software programmes or to physically destroy the hard disk.

Professional, registered computer recycling companies such as WERM could eradicate data completely and then recycle the equipment, he added.

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