Thousands of Floridian and foreign trainee general aviation pilots have been exposed to the risk of identity theft after a laptop computer belonging to a key government official was stolen.

The president of US trade body Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Phil Boyer say he has "fired off a blistering letter" to the US Department of Transportation's inspector general Todd Zinser to protest at the incompetence of an unnamed government offical whose computer was stolen last week. The laptop, stolen from the official's car, contained years of Florida new pilot certificate files that including names, addresses and Social Security numbers of some 40,000 pilots.

Boyer's letter was a follow-up to a telephone conversation with Zinser immediately following the incident. AOPA says the information contained on the computer leaves the pilots at risk of identity theft. Boyer says: "AOPA members are outraged that such sensitive personal information would be left unsecured."

The US Federal Aviation Administration recently followed US states' driving licence issuing guidelines and stopped using Social Security numbers for new pilot certificate numbers, to reduce the risk of identity theft.

Boyer told the Zinser that he "strongly urges [the DoT] to take the necessary steps to recover the laptop and prevent this type of security breech from being repeated in the future."