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Don't Let Identity Theft Rob Your Election

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David Bloys - News for Public Officials

March-18-2007

Concerns about ID theft from online records swept candidates in and out of office in 2006. Voters sent a clear message that ignoring their need for security would be dangerous for political futures. This message could be the key to the office you seek, or the lock that bars your re-election in 2008. The voters were talking. Were you paying attention?

Former County Clerk Rick Allen of Oneida County New York ignored his voters. He had been comfortably ensconced in the position for over 5 years until he posted the personal information of Oneida County property owner's on the Internet in December 2005. Allen's action prompted outrage from local citizens. Letters poured in to the Utica Observer Dispatch and the Oneida County Bar Association voiced their concerns about private information found in the county’s online documents.

When Allen obstinately refused to listen to his own constituents, local Republicans replaced him as their candidate of choice for the 2006 election. Allen switched sides to run under the Working Families banner. Unfortunately for the Republicans, it was too little, too late.

When Sandra DePerno entered the race as a Democrat, most people "in the know" never thought that she had any kind of a realistic shot at actually winning the job. But shortly after DePerno made her promise to protect the records, the Central New York Political Insider predicted, "Sandy DePerno will be Oneida County's next Clerk".

DePerno ran on a platform that promised to protect local citizens from exploitation by those outside the jurisdiction. Her promise resonated with the voters and she captured 45% of the votes. Allen received only 12%.

Less than a week after taking office, DePerno kept her promise to protect Oneida County citizens. She pulled the plug on sensitive records that her predecessor had posted online.

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Former Texas Dallas County Clerk Cynthia Figueroa (R) also saw her dreams of re-election go up in smoke in 2006 when a little known civil district court administrator and former county court manager called attention to the records Figueroa had placed online. Figueroa was elected Dallas County clerk in 2002 after promising to modernize the office that maintains court files, real estate records, marriage records and other public documents. Figueroa turned the Clerk’s office into an online repository searchable by anyone, anywhere in the world.

When Democrat challenger John Warren asked voters last year to decide if Figueroa’s modernization had gone too far and placed them at risk, the voters replaced Figueroa with the more security conscious candidate. Warren’s mission to protect citizens from online identity theft received a boost in February when Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an order to online county clerks in Texas that their websites breached Federal and State laws.

Shortly after the AG’s ruling, Warren told the Dallas Morning News,” This is the ammunition I need to support my cause," he said. "Technology is good and helpful. But we (county clerks) have to be a little more careful because of the information we have."

20-year incumbent Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir avoided the issue for 2006. Faced with years of  complaints from concerned citizens and Republican challenger James Crabtree, DeBeauvoir pulled the document images off her website last June.

"My obligation as an elected official is to respond to legitimate public concern and to do everything within my authority to protect people now," she said.

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Sadly, just one month after DeBeauvoir was re-elected she abandoned her obligation to her constituents in favor of appeasing those outside the jurisdiction who were profiting from Travis County's online records.

Last December, she announced to the press, "Today I am happy to report that we are able to make available approximately 10 million images for the use of our online customers."

DeBeauvoir said that her decision to put the records back online came after an extensive project to remove individual personal information like social security numbers and birthdates the county had previously published online.

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Called a "Patriot" by some and "One Angry Texan" by others, Mr. Bloys publishes News for Public Officials (and the people they serve).

A leading public records security expert, his research and comments have appeared in The New York (more...)
 

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