01/11/2013 05:56 EST | Updated 03/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Federal agency loses data on 583,000 Canadians

A portable hard drive containing personal information of more than half a million people who received student loans has gone missing, the federal government revealed Friday.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada says the device disappeared from an HRSDC office in Gatineau, Que., in early November.

The hard drive had personal information on 583,000 Canadians who were clients of the Canada Student Loans program from 2000 to 2006. Borrowers from Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are not affected.

The information on the missing hard drive includes:

- Student names, social insurance numbers, dates of birth, contact information and loan balance of Canada Student Loan borrowers.

- Personal contact information for 250 HRSDC employees.

The government says no banking or medical information was on the hard drive.

Letters are going out to everyone affected to tell them what steps to take to protect themselves.

No evidence of fraud

So far, there's no sign that any of the missing data has been accessed or used for fraudulent purposes, but the government has called in the RCMP and alerted the office of the privacy commissioner.

"I want all Canadians to know that I have expressed my disappointment to departmental officials at this unacceptable and avoidable incident in handling Canadians’ personal information," said Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley in a statement.

"I have requested that HRSDC employees across Canada receive comprehensive communications on the seriousness of these recent incidents and that they participate in mandatory training on a new security policy to ensure that similar situations do not occur again."

She says employees who fail to adhere to the new policy could be fired.

This is the second incident involving missing personal information that her department has faced in less than a month.

In late December, HRSDC revealed that a USB key containing personal information on about 5,000 Canadians disappeared in November.