Do 12,000 laptops go missing each week at US airports?

There's a gap between what airports claim and what a study says

A study recently released by Dell and the Ponemon Institute that claims 12,000 laptops are lost, missing or stolen each week at US airports isn't easily supported by data reported by three of the airports in the study, as well as data from the US Transportation Security Administration.

The study, independently conducted by the Ponemon Institute for Dell, was based on "a confidential field survey" of airport personnel not identified in the report.

One airport, Miami International, was identified in the report as having approximately 1,000 laptops lost, missing or stolen each week, the second-highest laptop loss frequency among all airports after Los Angeles International, at 1,200 a week.

Computerworld asked Miami International officials to provide what records they have on lost, missing and stolen laptops. Their data shows that for all of 2007, there were 68 laptops reported as stolen, and 480 laptops were turned in to the airport's lost and found. The TSA in Miami also reported that in the 12-month period that ended May 31, it had received only 38 missing laptop claims.

The study says that for all airports, the most common airport locations where laptops are lost are security checkpoints, at 40 per cent, followed by departure gates, at 23 per cent.

"We consider this study very nonscientific," said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, who added the study doesn't accurately reflect the number of laptops lost at TSA checkpoints. The TSA says that, nationally, about 75 laptops are reported lost or missing each month. More than 2 million passengers go through TSA checkpoints each day.

The data reported by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport, also doesn't correlate to the study. In the case of National Airport, the study estimates that 450 laptops are lost, missing or stolen there each week. However, for all of 2007, the airport authority said there were 276 laptops turned in to the lost and found.

At Dulles, 43 laptops were turned over to the airport's lost and found in 2007. The study estimates that 400 laptops are lost each week at Dulles.

A Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman attaches caveats to their findings. She said they only represent laptops found in public areas of the airports, such as bag claim areas, airport shuttles and restaurants. A laptop left on an aircraft would be handled by the airline. If the laptop is left at a TSA checkpoint, the TSA would take responsibility for it, so the numbers of lost and missing laptops isn't complete.

Larry Ponemon, who heads the research institute, said the difference between laptop incident numbers reported by the airports is a result of the methodology used by his researchers. The study involved interviews with "rank and file" airport personnel who cover a wide range of areas in the airport, including TSA checkpoints, facilities, departure gates and airport retail establishments.

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Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld
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