By Jaikumar Vijayan
APRIL 10, 2006
The Social Security numbers, driver's license information and bank
account details belonging to potentially millions of current and
former residents in Florida's Broward County are available to anyone
on the Internet because sensitive information has not been redacted
from public records being posted on the county's Web site.
A county official said the information available on the Web is in full
compliance with state statutes that require counties to post public
documents on the Internet.
The information has been available on the Internet for several years
and poses a serious risk of identity theft and fraud, said Bruce
Hogman, a county resident who informed the Broward County Records
Division of the problem about two weeks ago.
The breach stems from the county's failure to redact, or remove,
sensitive data from images of public documents such as property
records and family court documents, Hogman said. Included in the
documents that are publicly available are dates of birth and Social
Security numbers of minors, images of signatures, passport numbers,
green card details and bank account information.
"Here is the latest treasure trove available to identity thieves, and
it is free to the public, courtesy of the Florida state legislature in
its great Internet savvy," Hogman said. The easy availability of such
sensitive data also poses a security threat at a time of heightened
terrorist concerns, he said.
Sue Baldwin, director of the Broward Count Records Division, said the
county is aware of Hogman's concerns but said that her office is in
compliance with state laws requiring all state recorders to maintain a
Web site for official records. As part of its statutory requirements,
the public records search section of www.broward.org contains images
of public records dating back to 1978, many of which are likely to
contain sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, she
said. According to Baldwin, certain documents recorded after June 5,
2002, such as military discharges, family court records, juvenile
court records, probate law documents and death certificates are
automatically blocked from the public record under current Florida
law. But the same information recorded prior to the June 2002 cutoff
has been posted on the county site, she said.
Up to now "recorders have no statutory authority to automatically
remove Social Security, bank account and driver's license numbers,"
from public records, she said.
A new statute set to take effect Jan. 1, 2007, will require county
recorders to remove Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and
credit card and debit card numbers from public documents before
posting documents online, she said. To ensure compliance with the
requirement, Broward County issued a Request for Letters of Interest
from vendors of redaction software in February 2005 and has already
selected Aptitude Solutions Inc. for the work, Baldwin said.
"The software will be used to redact information from all images
displayed on the county records Web site," including those already
posted, Baldwin said. "I do not know how long the actual process will
take, but we intend to comply with the statutory requirements,
Until that time, individuals who want sensitive information removed
from an image or a copy of a public record can individually request
that in writing, she said. Such a request must specify the
identification page number that contains the Social Security number or
other sensitive information, she said.
"We have provided information pertaining to requesting redaction of
protected information on our Web site at www.broward.org/records,
since 2002," Baldwin said. Since Hogman expressed his concerns, the
county has made the redaction request information more prominent on
its Web site and is also working on creating a special e-mail box for
handling redaction requests.
"Aside from making the redaction request process as user-friendly and
speedy as possible, I do not have the independent authority to take
any additional action regarding removing material from the public
records," she said.
Baldwin added that the information available on the Web is also freely
available for public purchase and inspection at the county offices.
"Professional list-making companies have always purchased copies of
records and data from recorders to use in the creation of specialized
marketing lists, which they sell," she said. So too have title
insurance underwriters and credit reporting agencies.
Hogman, who wants the records taken down until a solution is found,
said he has contacted several people -- including state legislators,
both of the state's U.S. senators, the FBI and the U.S. Federal Trade
Commission. So far, he has not heard back from anyone except Baldwin.
"In my estimation, 'do nothing' is not a good solution because it
leaves the information out there for public viewing" he said.
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