Friday, February 27, 2009

Local Governments Allegedly Selling Social Security Numbers Online

Via WkowTV (Madison, WI) -

Dr. Joe Campana a privacy and information security expert and author of a book on privacy and information security, Privacy MakeOver: The Essential Guide to Best Practices recently produced a short video for National Data Privacy Day 2009, "Stealing Social Security Numbers on the Web" which demonstrates how easy it is to access Social Security Numbers on government Web sites. Campana produced and published the video to bring this common risk to the attention of consumers.

Campana said, "What I didn't realize, when I produced the video last month, was that the County I reside in allows access to taxpayer Social Security Numbers through Web access to land and other legal records." He said, "you don't even have to go to the County Clerk's Office to get them, the county is selling Social Security Numbers through the web for $5.95.

Dr. Campana said he accessed the records through the Dane County, Wisconsin Web site. The county provides online access through Tapestry, a third party system operated by Fidlar Technologies (Rock Island, IL) that maintains the records. Web access to records on Tapestry is available for 17 counties in Wisconsin and nearly 100 counties nationwide in nine states.

The video Campana produced last month highlighted a County in Oklahoma whose database is maintained by operated by ACS Government Land Records, which provides services to about 50 counties in several states. Access to that county's records is free.

Campana said, "These data management companies ought to be taking a responsible role in managing consumer records. They should be advising their clients, local government, that today they shouldn't allow Social Security Numbers and other sensitive information to be visible for crooks to cherry pick!"

Campana notes, "Social Security Numbers can be used to perpetrate a wide variety of identity theft crimes including medical identity theft; committing crimes under the identity of an innocent person; obtaining false government identification such as driver's licenses and passports that can be used for nefarious purposes such as eluding law enforcement and acts of terrorism; and for various types of fraud--financial, account, employment, Social Security, tax, and insurance"

Campana says that Wisconsin's Breach Notification Law (895.507) specifically requires any organization including local government to notify consumers when their personal information is disclosed if the information is not publicly available and is not encrypted, redacted or rendered unreadable.

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