Hello, Wisconsin: Wake Up on Data Security

PHOTO: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets supporters at an election-night rally June 5, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker has earned a national reputation for his hack-and-slash approach to government spending. Working hand-in-glove with both Houses of the GOP-controlled legislature, the Wisconsin governor gutted the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

While tight with the purse strings when it comes to public employees and a self-proclaimed advocate for small business (though very well-funded by big business), apparently the Walker administration does support full employment for at least one group of workers who clearly don't rely upon collective bargaining: identity thieves.

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue revealed that it had accidentally made public 110,795 Social Security numbers and tax ID numbers of Wisconsin residents. The numbers were mistakenly embedded in a real estate report and posted to the department's website for almost three months before being removed.

There are some very disturbing trends here. First, the Walker administration doesn't seem to have any concept of what it's talking about when it comes to identity theft. Walker's appointee, Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler, clearly missed the boat when he said in a prepared statement: "We know the individuals who downloaded this file are using it for their own business purposes and have no malicious intent…"

Actually, Mr. Chandler, you know nothing. Sure, the report's intended audience was real estate appraisers and realtors. However, the curious thing about the Internet is that once something is posted on a free public site, it's out there for the entire world to see, and it may never be reeled back in. This means that one of those 138 people who downloaded this online "oops" could easily have been an identity thief, or may have accidentally or intentionally handed the document off to an identity thief, and there is absolutely no way for you or anyone else to know. You see, even assuming all 138 people who accessed the information were legitimate, who's to vouch for the security of the systems or networks they used? Once it's out… it's out.

The second disturbing thing about this data breach is that it demonstrates the government of the Great State of Wisconsin is continuing its grand tradition of negligence when it comes to protecting thepersonal identifying information of its citizenry. This is the fourth time since 2006 that Wisconsin state agencies have been involved in the public release of Social Security numbers. Three of those breaches involved the Revenue Department.

In 2006, a private contractor working for the department mailed 171,000 tax booklets with taxpayers' Social Security numbers printed right on the front. That's a goof significant enough to make an identity thief fall to his knees and praise the Lord. While the state managed to intercept 54,500 of the botched booklets at post offices, that mishap still cost taxpayers $500,000 to cover one year's worth of credit monitoring services for victims of the breach.

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