A BP employee lost a laptop containing personal data belonging to thousands of Louisiana residents who filed compensation claims after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company said.
BP spokesman Curtis Thomas said the oil giant sent letters to about 13,000 people whose data was stored on the computer on Monday, notifying them about the potential data security breach and offering to pay for their credit to be monitored. The company also reported the missing laptop to law enforcement agencies, he said.
The laptop was password-protected, but the information was not encrypted, Mr Thomas said.
The data included a spreadsheet of claimants' names, social security numbers, phone numbers and addresses. But Mr Thomas said the company did not have any evidence that claimants' personal information had been misused.
"We're committed to the people of the Gulf Coast states affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and spill, and we deeply regret that this occurred," he said.
The data belonged to individuals who filed claims with BP before the Gulf Coast Claims Facility took over the processing of claims in August. BP paid about £250 million in claims before the switch. As of yesterday, the GCCF had paid around £2.2 billion to 172,539 claimants over the rig explosion last April that killed 11 workers.
Mr Thomas said no one would have to resubmit a claim because of the lost data.
The employee lost the laptop on March 1 during "routine business travel", said Mr Thomas, who declined to elaborate on the circumstances. "If it was stolen, we think it was a crime of opportunity, but it was initially lost," he said.
BP is offering to pay for claimants to have their credit monitored by Equifax, an Atlanta-based credit bureau.
Asked why nearly a month elapsed before BP notified residents about the missing laptop, Mr Thomas said, "We were doing our due diligence and investigating."