Kansas Ethics Database Taken Down Amid Privacy Concerns

The database, which published the last four digits of state employees’ social security numbers among other information, was taken down after questions were raised about the potential for identity theft.

by Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star / January 26, 2018
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(TNS) — Kansas state government has made the last four Social Security digits of thousands of Kansas state workers available to the public for more than a decade.

After the technology website Gizmodo on Thursday raised questions about whether this made state workers vulnerable to identity theft, Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office removed the forms from the state website.

The secretary of state’s office hosts an online database of the forms, which are called statements of substantial interest. Kansas requires elected officials and other state personnel to file the statements each year as part of the state’s ethics law.

The forms, which provide an overview of the officials’ financial holdings, also include an optional space to list the last four digits of the person’s Social Security number as a way to prevent confusion if two officials have the same name.

The Star confirmed that a copy of a former state worker’s form included the digits.

“Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach does not believe that the last four of a person’s social security number should be part of this publicly available information,” spokeswoman Samantha Poetter said in a statement. “... Secretary Kobach has has taken all statements off of the office website.”

But the forms are still considered public documents under Kansas law.

“The statements are still available for someone to request in person pursuant to Kansas statute,” Poetter said.

“Secretary Kobach takes security measures very seriously and is looking for a solution that would allow this sensitive information to be redacted, while still following the rule of law. (Statements of substantial interest) are an important tool in ensuring government transparency and any solution should reflect this fact.”

Poetter said in an additional phone call that the forms have been online since 2005, when Republican Ron Thornburgh served as secretary of state. The option to list the digits has been on the form at least since then, Poetter said.

Kobach’s office steered additional inquiries to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which enforces state ethics law and designed the form.

Mark Skoglund, the commission’s executive director, said the option to list the digits has been on the form “as long as anyone in this office can remember.” Skoglund said the commission would vote at its meeting next week whether to “remove that item entirely.”

Skoglund, who became executive director in September, said he was unaware of “any particular issue anyone has reported” when asked whether any state workers had experienced identity theft from the digits being public.

Kobach also faced scrutiny this week after the state of Florida made public partial Social Security numbers of hundreds of Kansas voters. Florida has access to the data through the Crosscheck voter registration system that Kansas manages.

©2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.