Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day

You bet we're gonna do some grilling this weekend! As a matter of fact my wife and I will be pouring beer at the Lions' Club booth at our county fair. Families, fireworks, and a liberal dose of fun is the agenda for us this 4th of July weekend. Our county fair takes place in a grassy park in the shadow of the county offices and court building. Now what, do you ask, does this have to do with identity theft? Well, normally nothing but fate and an ironic turn of events brings me to the story.

We were in the courthouse recently as a part of an ongoing program aimed at helping adolescents. As such we routinely get notices about the program. My wife (and business partner), happened to turn one sheet over and discovered to her surprise that on the other side was a photocopy of a check that had been entered into evidence in the courts over a year ago. On the check was the persons' name, address, phone number, federal tax ID number, drivers licence number, and of course the bank account and routing info. The first thing we thought was how many other copies of this were in circulation? And how many other such recycled sheets of paper containing PII on county residents were floating around? Is this kind of recycling a county policy?

We were glad that this one landed in our laps and not into the wrong hands so we took it back to the courthouse and gave it to the judge who runs the court. I mentioned that the person should be contacted just to be on the safe side. The judge was somewhat indignant and counselled me that as this was a piece of evidence it was a matter of public record. Not understanding that public records need to be protected from data thieves the same as non-public records the judge dismissed the matter as insignificant.
I don't think that the person whose information was passed around with no regard to his privacy would share that sentiment.

Since items and information are entered into evidence by the attorneys in a case, in my opinion those attorneys need to redact the information available to public scrutiny as a matter of county policy. Under the FCRA private business has to adhere to very specific disposal practices. I doubt seriously if the personal information printed on the check was relevant to the case. Even if it were, shredding and disposal procedures should be in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
There oughta be a law! Wait a minute, there is!

The worst thing about this incident for me however was the judges' casual dismissal of the whole thing. This lack of understanding of the risks of identity theft on the part of a well respected judge leads me to be concerned about the procedures practiced by the clerks and administrative staff throughout the county offices every day.

What difference would it make with a policy in place and guidelines for all of the county employees to handle the data they move around in a safe and responsible manner? How about some identity theft education for the employees? What effect might that have?

Why do people treat identity theft and the fallout from lost or stolen information with such a casual air? It hasn't happened to them... yet, is my guess. It is remarkable what happens when someone becomes a victim, attitudes change. Following the simple but effective guidelines already published by the FTC alone can dramatically reduce incidents like this, and even the more egregious breaches we see in the news almost daily.
As I wrote in a previous post. "Its our information at stake, not someone elses'." I live in this county and I am not impressed by the attitude of prominent officials who treat my personal information as though it was of no consequence if it just "got lost".

Now I feel better, time to crank up the grill and take a coupla days off.

Happy Fourth of July!!

1 comment:

BigBad George said...

Excellent post. Thanks for highlighting the low level of awareness about identity-theft within many state and local governments. I agree with you. That judge won't continue to take such a lazy attitude towards ID-theft after his/her information is compromised. Later this week, I will post in my blog some news I received from the Suffolk County New York District Attorney's office.