There are growing concerns about the data security of hardware dumped illegally on poorer countries, with lax e-waste laws leaving people vulnerable to identity theft.
A report on SBS Dateline highlighted the problem of mounting e-waste shipped to places like Ghana from the west, including Australia. According to a report by ZDNet Australia the programme showed that around 500 containers were sent to the African country every month, containing consumer goods such as TVs and PCs.
Once the waste is dumped, locals often strip them down to access valuable components such as copper.
In addition to dumping electronic waste illegally, there are fears that hard drives will still hold sensitive data having not been wiped properly, which opens up concerns about identity theft and fraud.
On the show, a local journalist showed how easy it was to gain access from a dumped hard drive, demonstrating using information “against you”.
Since the programme aired, the Australian government has launched an investigation into what happens to the e-waste.
However, it was unable to offer any specific records of how many shipments have been sent to Ghana, though 15 containers have been held back in Australian ports in the last two years.
This lack of care over sensitive data is unlikely to be consigned solely to the rubbish dumps of Ghana and the Australian government. E-waste is a massive growing problem, with the total amount worldwide growing by an additional 40 million tonnes every year according to a UN report.
With plenty of dodgy dealings with e-waste once it leaves the shores of Western countries, it is unlikely that Australia is alone.
According to e-waste expert Dr Mathias Schluep at Empa in Switzerland, Europe isn’t doing enough to ensure guidelines for take back systems, as part of EU WEEE legislation, are being followed.
Schulep told TechEye that the take back systems where producers are expected to ensure adequate disposal are “not always guaranteeing that PC hard drives are destroyed”.
Instead the take back systems are sometimes exporting waste second-hand to places such as Ghana.
“I think consumers in general are not aware of that,” Schulep said. “The take back system actually should give an option to the consumer: that they can choose between a give back channel where it is guaranteed that their appliances will be destroyed and a give back channel where they know that the appliance might be re-used.
“Once the consumer is aware of those options, they also should be aware that hard-drive data might be accessed, if the PC is re-used.
“The key is that the consumer has the choice and that he is aware of that.”