March 26, 2007 By News Report
The Secretary of State serves as the central filing office for certain financing statements and lien documents as required under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Under the law, those documents are public records, meaning they're available to anyone who requests and pays for a copy of them. Bowen, who took office in January, moved quickly to shut off Web-based access to the UCC filings after learning that many of the documents contain people's Social Security numbers -- a key piece of information sought by identity thieves.
"This is yet another place where our laws haven't kept pace with advances in technology," said Bowen. "By law, UCC filings are public records, the statutory UCC filing form that people must use has a space available for a Social Security number, and the Secretary of State is required to accept that form. To make the agency more business-friendly, previous Secretaries of State have made these records available on the Internet. However, until we find a way to remove all but the last four digits of people's Social Security Numbers from the records in the electronic database, I've decided to pull the plug on the system that, until Tuesday, gave people Web-based access to these documents."
Bowen served for 14 years in the Legislature and was a well-known leader in the battle to take Social Security numbers out of public circulation and give people the tools they need to protect their personal privacy and prevent identity theft.
On Tuesday, Bowen shut down the portions of the Secretary of State's "UCC Connect" Web site that allowed anyone to search, view and order UCC documents online. Furthermore, said the secretary's office in a release, Bowen has gone beyond the steps taken by other states that have discovered this same problem.
As of March 21, Secretary Bowen has:
Several other states, including New York and Ohio, have encountered similar problems with their web-based UCC systems. While they have shut down the web-based access to records, they still make records with full Social Security numbers available to the public in paper form and to data brokers who buy public records in bulk. Secretary Bowen has gone further than any other state by directing that all documents held by her office -- past and future, electronic and paper -- have all but the last four digits of Social Security numbers removed from them before being released to the public.
Currently, there are approximately two million UCC filings on record with the Secretary of State and approximately one-third of those UCC documents contain Social Security numbers.
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