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SS numbers distributed to ward hacks

Tuesday, Jan 23, 2007

So, apparently, every ward boss in the city has my Social Security number. Fantastic.

Four Chicago residents filed lawsuits Monday alleging their privacy was violated because the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners accidentally released their Social Security numbers along with those of 1.3 million other city residents.

A database file containing the Social Security numbers and other personal data from registered voter files was distributed in late 2003 and early 2004 to about 100 political organizations run by the city’s aldermen and committeemen. About a half dozen copies were also released more recently.

Tom Leach, a spokesman for the board, said it was legal for the information to be released, but the Social Security information should have been deleted. He said the board plans to ask everyone who received copies of the records to return them.

Last fall the board was forced to patch a security flaw on its Web site that had made private voter information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth for more than 780,000 registered voters, vulnerable to online theft.

They sure seem to be downplaying these idiotic mistakes.

In addition to commenting on the city election board’s blunder, let’s use this as a privacy law open thread. What penalties should be involved here? Is there any new legislation you’d like to see introduced?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

25 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 9:54 am:

    A good starting point for the this discussion is this - why is the board providing free voter files to ward committeemen, who are not employees of the City, but are by definition, political operatives?

    And why do the Alderman use a voter list to track City services? Shouldn’t non-registered voters have equal standing to get City services? I’m not talking about the reality in Chicago, but rather how it should be in theory.


  2. - voter fraud - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 9:57 am:

    The whole idea of election authorities havingg social security numbers was to cut down on voter fraud. To find out if John Smith had a voter regristration already in the county or state.
    The last four digits of the ssn and the birth date allow election authorities to weed dups and prevent possible fraud.
    That was one of the reasons that the courts have allowed the use of the last four ssn.


  3. - Jeff Trigg - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 10:03 am:

    Perhaps Social Security numbers should only be used for Social Security purposes. I believe that was the law at one point. Heads should roll for this, but alas, Chicago Democrats are in charge and no one will be held accountable or lose their jobs.


  4. - Concerned - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 10:09 am:

    When this happens with companies like a bank, they offer their customers free credit monitoring for a year or two, does the city of Chicago have to do that for all voters?


  5. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 10:17 am:

    When you register to vote, there should be a place where you can decline any authorization to have your personal information released. If you then discover than some jackenheimer has your info via the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, they can be fined.


  6. - Snidely Whiplash - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 10:46 am:

    There should be personal liability for this, all the way to the top. Obviously, all responsible, and the director, should be crap-canned, as well. The potentional for identity theft here is absolutely mind boggling!

    Let me put forth the admittedly cynical proposition that it is rather suspicious that this information was only distributed to city ward bosses and aldermen; does this mean that no opposition Democrats or Republicans received voter information from the Board? If that is the case, shouldn’t there be an investigation going on???


  7. - Bubs - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 11:36 am:

    If City officials are downplaying this, then they are too dumb to appreciate the potential legal ramifications, which are significant.


  8. - NW burbs - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 11:37 am:

    Why do they even need social security numbers at the BoE?

    SS#s should only be used for legal transactions (buying a home, paying taxes, etc). Enough of this “we need it for identitification purposes” baloney.


  9. - Niles Township - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 11:49 am:

    OK, let’ see here…the most criminal element in the city, corrupt politicals hacks at the ward level, now have personal information on 1.3 million residents, and people shouldn’t be worried according to the city? Maybe we also shouldn’t be worried about politically connected contractors, corrupt city officials, a culture of corrupt greed infesting the city…all because the city says don’t worry.


  10. - Baltimoron - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 12:22 pm:

    I am truly concerned that any of these 100-plus CDs could have easily been passed on to (or stolen by) a criminal. You bet I’m worried and I do believe the city should be held to the same ramifications a bank or insurance company would be. This is the second major SSN blunder by a Chicago agency in the last few months. And yes I am a registered voter in Chicago who suddenly misses Maryland more than ever!


  11. - C$ - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 1:23 pm:

    There exists one reason to give a social security number out… for identification purposes involving social security collection or payments. Any other use of this number should be illegal.


  12. - zatoichi - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 1:37 pm:

    This allows the “vote early, vote often” concept to live on with little interference once new ID cards are made up.


  13. - Squideshi - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 1:43 pm:

    If the Board had been using an open-source application for its website, perhaps this vunerability would have been discovered and fixed before the Social Security numbers were disclosed.

    I would like to see legislation requiring Illinois government bodies to use open-source software whenever possible (i.e. in cases where open-source software that meets basic requirements is available.) Not only would such software be more secure, but it would also reduce software acquisition and maintence costs.

    Perhaps the legislation could also include some sort of provision allowing the State to start up new open-source projects, where none currently exist. With a little creativity, the resources could be shared among the various states.


  14. - Langdon - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 1:49 pm:

    Peter Zelchenko is a hero who really exposed something bad. The Board of Elections is a joke.
    I don’t trust Sequia or the last election results primary or general.


  15. - JakeCP - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 2:17 pm:

    This is terrible and then people want to question why I don’t support David Orr. Rich did you receive my email?


  16. - JakeCP - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 2:21 pm:

    oops my mistake did I say David Orr? I mean the whole Chicago Board of Elecions.


  17. - North by Northwest - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 3:13 pm:

    After watching them run last March’s primary debacle, can it be any surprise? It’s keystone cops.

    Anonymous has a great point. Why are ward bosses getting free voter files?


  18. - Pat Guiney - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 6:31 pm:

    Langdon Neal and David Orr should both resign.

    Go back to punch card voting.

    There should be a federal investigation


  19. - OAD - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 6:34 pm:

    When Roe V Wade is discussed from a legal perspective, it’s often mentioned that the justices found a right to privacy in the ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution. The criticism is that there is no explicitly stated ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution.

    Which always makes me wonder - why the hell not?
    We need a Privacy Amendment written with today’s digial age in mind. Use my info, fine, but fortify, anonymize it and protect it like it was your daughter’s……virtue.

    Oh, yeah, once upon a time SSNs were supposed to be used only for SS purposes. Now it’s a de facto ID number. That bell can’t be unrung. Even if we did limit it to just SS uses, there would still be a need for some method of unique national ID.


  20. - BC - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 6:37 pm:

    Seems to me that a critical point here is that ward bosses and other local “volunteers” have access to information about voters that can be used selectively for ‘favored’ candidates. I’m concerned that this practice–which we must conclude has been happening forever–has been used to target specific homes with specific information could otherwise influence the outcome of local (aldermanic) races.


  21. - scorekeeper - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 6:43 pm:

    Aldermen got updated voter lists this past December, too. The Board of Elections put CDs (no SS#’s this time, I went back to check) in their mailboxes at City Hall.

    Awfully nice of the BoE to provide that info just in time for the campaign season.


  22. - Squideshi - Tuesday, Jan 23, 07 @ 8:34 pm:

    Established political parties are routinely provided with voter data that is unavailable to new parties. That’s a matter of state law, designed to limit competition in our political marketplace of ideas.


  23. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Jan 24, 07 @ 9:33 am:

    You guys don’t see the big picture.

    With the proliferation of data which is in many cases out of date, the ward hacks are able to use the SSN and the voters lists to apply for absentee ballots, whether or not the person lives there.

    With janitors cowed by possible housing code violations and with an easily gotten post office key to multifamily mail box drops, absentee ballots can be obtained at their leisure, filled in and mailed back.

    For those still in residence, the ward hack shows up with an absentee ballot and helps out the voter. For all the rest…the ward hack votes hearty and majorities are assured.

    Precincts delivering the vote are rewarded. They can now do it more efficiently.

    If the polling place carefully checks whether a person that voted at the site also voted for some reason absentee, it might get interesting.


  24. - anon - Wednesday, Jan 24, 07 @ 10:35 am:

    Please remember that this is the City of Chicago Board of Elections, not Cook County. David Orr has nothing to do with the city or this issue. In fact, maybe those who think the county should have an election oversight board might think twice after this little mishap. Apparently the city isn’t doing such a great job. Maybe the Trib should be keeping a closer eye on the city’s board instead of bashing Orr, who is one of the area’s fairest politicians.


  25. - Langdon - Wednesday, Jan 24, 07 @ 6:30 pm:

    Peter Zelchenko should get an award.

    David Orr and Tom Leach should resign.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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