Huge number of computerized police records potentially lost

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Internal records of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Joint Intelligence Unit, Marine Unit and the police commissioner’s office may be lost following a “hard drive crash,” according to information obtained by the Cayman Compass.  

The crash, which affected five drives containing government data on a server at the Citrus Grove building in downtown George Town, caused the stored data on those drives to be corrupted, officials confirmed.  

“A series of hard drive failures occurred on the server, the server itself did not fail,” said Wesley Howell, deputy chief officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs. “The server held data for the RCIPS, specific types and exact number of files that are corrupted are unknown. The file share that has the corrupted files holds 1.2 terabytes of data.”  

A terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes or one trillion bytes of computerized data. A one terabyte hard drive, for example, could hold more than 78 million copies of this story, if it were saved to a computer drive using a standard Microsoft Word program.  

Mr. Howell said government Computer Services Department employees were searching through drives Wednesday to determine if the information kept on the police hard drives had been backed up. “I would have expected to hear something by now,” he said.  

RCIPS representatives responding to an open records request filed by the newspaper in February revealed the problem when information related to the request about Marine Unit patrol boats could not be located.  

The RCIPS information manager, Chief Inspector Raymond Christian, reported numerous times that officers were searching for the relevant records sought by the request for the period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Feb. 19, 2014: “All of the watercraft used as part of the Joint Marine Unit’s operations by name of the boat. How many times each of those watercraft have a) broken down, have been damaged or were otherwise found to be deficient and have required repairs or replacement, b) the period of time they were out of service, c) the cost of making the repairs, d) when they were returned to service e) if they were not returned to service, what happened to the watercraft.” 

Some of the repair cost information had been provided as part of the request, but Mr. Christian said data related to the time the vessels were out of service was on the government hard drives in the Citrus Grove building that had crashed, apparently sometime in May.  

Representatives of the Information Commissioner’s Office were contacted about the “missing” data from the newspaper’s request.  

“[Mr. Christian] says that computer services has recommended that the Ministry [of Home Affairs] send the server overseas for the data to be restored,” said Freedom of Information analyst Cory Martinson. “Apparently, they do not want to continue trying the restoration of the data here because they fear that they could further corrupt the files.”  

Contacted for comment Tuesday, Ministry of Home Affairs officials said they were aware of the issues with corrupted data or lost data due to “server hard-drive failures.” 

However, the ministry was still working to identify exactly what information is considered missing or irretrievable.  

“What we are still waiting on is the amount or the identification of what information is missing or irretrievable,” said ministry chief officer Eric Bush. “If it is determined that valuable information … is missing, we will identify an appropriate vendor to do this work for us. 

“However, until we know what is missing, we can’t make an information decision on whether we should expend already limited funding to try and recover it.”  

Mr. Howell said the ministry has asked for this information, but had not yet received it.  

“Of the total 6.5 terabytes of data on the server, 4.1 terabytes were recovered in full,” he said. “Of the remaining 1.2 terabytes, some files are accessible and some are inaccessible. It is unclear to us how much … is inaccessible.”  

Police records 

Aside from any issues with the server crash, the Information Commissioner’s Office has been highly critical in the past of police record-keeping procedures. A review by the Information Commissioner’s Office done in late 2011 uncovered what then-Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert called “very serious record-keeping issues” within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.  

“There seems to be total confusion as to what files exist, do not exist, cannot be found, or have not yet been found,” Mrs. Dilbert wrote in her 13-page ruling on a case that involved a former police officer who made requests for certain information under Cayman’s open records law.  

“It appears that, over the last few years, some improvements have been made in the way complaint files are logged,” Commissioner Dilbert wrote. “However, given the manner in which this request and appeal were handled by the RCIPS, I can only conclude that the vital importance of record-keeping is insufficiently understood and acted upon within the [police] service.  

“It appears that not all RCIPS officers, particularly in [the] Professional Standards Unit, are cognisant of the requirements of the FOI Law. Proper records management is essential to the operational functions and success of the RCIPS in dealing with its crime-fighting responsibilities.”  

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Police records housed in a server in Citrus Grove may be irretrievable.
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6 COMMENTS

  1. In common with most companies, the RCIPS probably needs to fully educate all it’s staff on their responsibilities under FOI (and basic Data Protection) and ned to organise their recording systems better BUT in a small jurisdiction like Cayman, the RCIPS as well as many other public bodies is simply not big enough to be able to manage their computer needs and the Government’s Computer Services department is there to service all their needs – needs that they have failed to service so spectacularly in this case.
    As for backing up data, I am sitting at my desk at home with over 3 terabytes of storage available under my desk in 2 small boxes. All of these are ‘backed up’ to an alternate in the same house (different room) which protects against hardware failure and additionally backed up to a cloud repository which is probably in California. I have isolated out the critical information and that is, separately copied to a secure memory stick with AES encryption and to a second cloud repository with the files password protected. It isn’t rocket science………. although it seems it might be for the Government’s Computer Services department!

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  2. LOL, I suppose this makes an interesting alternative to the standard excuse in the UK that lost material had been ‘accidentally’ shredded.

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  3. Of the total 6.5 terabytes of data on the server, 4.1 terabytes were recovered in full, he said. Of the remaining 1.2 terabytes, some files are accessible and some are inaccessible. It is unclear to us how much … is inaccessible.

    6.5TB – 4.1TB = 1.4TB, not 1.2TB. Where are the other 200MB?

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  4. Somebody hasn’t been doing a very good job – disaster planning on a hurricane prone island should NEVER have allowed this to be even possible!

    While 6 TB is a mind boggling huge number – an average person reading 200 words per minute, would take 12,500 YEARS to read 6 TB of text…

    But in modern computing terms it is pretty trivial – The same amount of data could be stored on a single ‘tape’ (Lto 6) – about a quarter the size of the old VHS Videos, in about 2 hours.

    Those tapes could be stored off-site and copies also Fedexed off island for protection from Fire, Flood or … Hurricane?

    The key concept with data backup is to realise that MOST of the data does not change on a daily basis, weekly basis or even monthly basis, so even if you only did a full backup every quarter, and send off-site – 90 to 95 percent is still protected. Then, a daily backup of the ‘increment’ (the files changed since the last backup) takes a matter of seconds.

    I take it these are only internal documentation and not ‘evidential quality’ which might be called for court use?

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  5. Who is responsible for the administration of the data that is stored on this server? I find it difficult to believe that the data in question was not subject to some form of replication and daily backup procedures.

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  6. The CIG is obviously not of what redundancy or backups mean someone should lose their jobs over this. I would be fired in a minute in I allowed this to happen. Private sector companies wouldn’t let this happen, just goes to show why they do things better. Time to privatize government IT services.

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