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Media Release | June 22, 2009

UBC journalism students find sensitive US Homeland Security data in Ghana: Watch their global e-waste investigation June 23 on PBS

A team of UBC journalism students investigating e-waste in three countries for an international reporting course uncovered a previously unknown US security breach in a country listed as one of the top 10 sources of cybercrime globally.

The students purchased hard drives in an open-air market in Ghana for $40 (Cdn) that turned out to contain sensitive information about multimillion-dollar defence contracts between the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman, one of the largest military contractors in the U.S.

“We had the drives analysed after leaving Ghana and were surprised at what we found,” says UBC Associate Professor Peter Klein, an Emmy Award-winning former 60 Minutes producer, who teaches the course. Ghana is listed by the US State Department as one of the top sources of cybercrime worldwide.

Editors: The students’ documentary Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground airs June 23 on PBS’ Frontline/World’s season finale (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/). Interviews: Prof. Klein (available at 917.693.1149 after 1:30 p.m. PST) and student Blake Sifton (contact via UBC Public Affairs).

According to the students’ investigation, the FBI is concerned that companies such as Northrop Grumman may believe that their drives are wiped clean by software before being recycled. Northrop Grumman has acknowledged it is looking into how its hardware and data ended up in Ghana.

“The reason the students discovered this security breach is that they took the time to go see for themselves what’s going on, without pre-conceived ideas of the story, and they did some amazing enterprise reporting,” says Klein, adding that students found credit card numbers and family photos on other hard drives.

Klein, one of three instructors teaching the course (including Canwest Global Visiting Professor Sarah Carter, CBS News Johannesburg Bureau Chief and Adjunct Professor Dan McKinney), says that a “parachute journalist” would not have found this story.

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground is a pilot student production resulting from a $1-million donation by Vancouver venture philanthropist Alison Lawton of Mindset Innovation to UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her gift launched Canada’s first International Reporting course to send journalism students abroad to cover important and under-reported issues. The gift will enable 10 students each year to travel and produce international journalism for major media outlets focusing on broadcast and online content.

Learn about UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism at: journalism.ubc.ca

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Prof. Peter Klein
UBC School of Journalism
Cell: 917.693.1149

Basil Waugh
UBC Public Affairs
Tel: 604.822.2048
Email: basil.waugh@ubc.ca


Last reviewed 06-Jul-2009

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