B.C.’s privacy watchdog has launched an investigation into the disappearance of a hard drive containing more than three million education records of B.C. and Yukon students.

The unencrypted drive has 3.4 million records spanning the years 1986 to 2009. It includes names, postal codes, grades and personal education numbers.

Innovation and Citizens’ Services Minister Amrik Virk has also ordered a full review by the Office of the Chief Information Officer in a bid to prevent privacy breach.

The disappearance was discovered during a review by the province’s education ministry to ensure it was complying with data storage standards.

The Western Digital external hard drive was one of two backups the ministry created in 2011.

Virk said it doesn’t believe the drive has been accessed and the risk of identity theft is low, but it is notifying the public out of an “abundance of caution.”

The drive also contains 9,273 personal education numbers connected to kids in the care of Ministry of Children and Family Development before 2006/07, including information such as health and behaviour issues and supervision status.

“British Columbians expect us to ensure their information is safe, and the review I launched today will ensure our privacy protection policies and procedures are as robust as they possibly can be,” Virk said in a statement.

“Our cross-government review will ensure we are doing everything we can to keep people’s information safe.”

The breach has the potential of violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents in B.C., says Jim Iker of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

Iker says the breach underscores a larger issue of how the province collects and stores data related to students.

“The government insists on collecting more and more data and maintaining centralized data bases but we have seen today how easily mistakes happen,” Iker said.

The BCTF says it’s not just student records that could be compromised. It says sensitive data on children in ministry care and mental health information is also at risk.

“The BCTF has been strongly raising these concerns for several years. I hope now the government will take our concerns and student privacy seriously,” Iker said.

British Columbians can call Service BC at 1-800-663-7867 to find out if their information is believed to be on the hard drive.