Views from Kansas: Protect private information

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

At a time when computer hacking and identity theft are all too common, it’s a bit uncomfortable to disclose personal information on forms and documents, but usually there’s little choice.

Failure to provide the information requested can mean your submission isn’t processed. So we offer the details — our driver’s license number, Social Security number and birthdate — trusting the institutions we’re conducting our business with will indeed ensure its protection.

But sometimes they don’t. Last year, we found out that private voter data was transferred by Secretary of State Kris Kobach over an unsecured email in 2013 and then inadvertently released this fall by Florida officials working to fulfill an open records request.

As we reported then, Kobach’s quest to discover voter fraud exposed sensitive data for nearly 1,000 Kansans when an official tried to compare partial Social Security Numbers sent via an unsecured email to election staff in Florida.

The Kansas House of Representatives was outraged and moved quickly to pass a measure that would require the redaction of all portions of an individual’s Social Security number on any document of record before it is made available for public inspection or copying. The bill passed with 117 votes in favor but was killed in the Senate, leaving private data still vulnerable to release by the Kansas government.

Now, the state’s chief legal counsel is arguing what happened is permissible. Attorney General Derek Schmidt made the argument in a brief defending Kobach’s release of Kansas voter information, including the partial Social Security numbers and birthdates of 945 registered Kansas voters. He wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court “has never held that there is a constitutional right to prevent government disclosure of private information,” and thus Kobach shouldn’t be prosecuted.

This is wrong. People don’t want their private information in the public domain.

If Kansans can’t be confident their government will protect their most sensitive information, how can we trust its capabilities in other areas of state government? Between voting records and income tax filings, the state possesses our most private information. It should never be subject to broad release, regardless of whether it’s a document available for public inspection or not. We don’t believe that exposing the partial Social Security numbers to election officials in Florida was the responsible thing to do, and it’s wrong that the state’s counsel is arguing it’s unprotected information.

With the cybersecurity challenges across the nation, we need to invest resources in training and technology that ensure the protection of identifying data. This is a harder sale to make to policymakers when the state’s own attorney general is arguing that the only data that needs protected is that which is vulnerable to public review.

The Legislature doesn’t need to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if this information is protected. We’re certain Kansans will make clear to their elected officials that this is an important law to enact and it should be a top priority in January.

— Originally published in the Topeka Capital Journal


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