Defense Department to stop destroying used hard drives

The Defense Department has rescinded an order to destroy all unclassified computer hard drives that leave Defense custody. The directive, issued Thursday by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, will potentially make thousands of computers available for donations to schools across the country. Wolfowitz's order follows a Defense Department inspector general's investigation last year that found sensitive information residing on hard drives that the agency had disposed of. The probe was initiated after revelations by former CIA Director John Deutch that he mishandled sensitive information on an agency computer. Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon, Wolfowitz's predecessor, ordered last January that all hard drives-whether containing classified or unclassified information-be destroyed before leaving the agency's possession, said Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen. "The IG's report said we needed to step up our procedures," said Hansen. However, she added, the agency has searched for a way to achieve balance when dealing with sensitive information, not just to destroy all data regardless of their content. The practice of destroying hard drives containing classified information still stands, an agency statement said, but new instructions provide guidance to departments on overwriting hard drives. The Pentagon defines overwriting as "the process of replacing information with meaningless data in such a way that meaningful information cannot be recovered from a hard drive." Departments throughout the agency urged Wolfowitz to establish new rules for hard drives so that computer equipment could be made available for donation, the statement said. In fiscal 2000, the agency reports that it gave more than 74,000 pieces of computer equipment originally worth $97 million to school organizations. Where there is concern about particularly sensitive data remaining on hard drives, Defense will still allow the data to be destroyed.
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