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Unemployment System ‘Glitch’ Exposes Personal Data in Illinois

The new system for processing unemployment claims for independent contractors and the self-employed “made some private information publicly available for a short time,” state officials confirmed.

by Jamie Munks, Chicago Tribune / May 18, 2020
A pedestrian passes the closed Chicago Workforce Center at 18th St. in Pilsen on May 1, 2020. According to a sign on the window, IDES offices have been "closed to the public until further notice." TNS

(TNS) — A glitch in a newly-launched state system for processing unemployment claims for gig workers publicly exposed personal information, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security “is aware there was a glitch” in a new system for processing unemployment claims for independent contractors and the self-employed that “made some private information publicly available for a short time, and worked to immediately remedy the situation,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “A full investigation is under way to assess exactly what happened and how many people were impacted. Those who were impacted will be notified.”

It’s the latest in a series of issues for a beleaguered state agency that has struggled to handle a deluge of unemployment claims as the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy.

For months, people have reported issues accessing the online filing system and getting through by phone, which Pritzker has blamed on inadequate technology and agency understaffing.

The new online portal for gig workers to apply for federally-funded unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program went live on Monday. In his daily coronavirus briefing days earlier, Pritzker highlighted the new system and steps the state had taken to remove roadblocks many Illinois residents have experienced in filing for unemployment benefits.

The state hired outside contractors to build the new system, which Pritzker indicated “has a much higher capability than the existing systems” the agency is using. "So I believe that it will be able to handle the unemployment claims that come in under the PUA system,” he said.

The data breach was first reported by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station.

Republican state Rep. Terri Bryant issued a news release Saturday night about a “possible massive data breach involving the private information of thousands of Illinois unemployment applicants.”

A constituent contacted Bryant on Friday to say she “stumbled upon” personal information for thousands of unemployment applicants on the IDES website, including name, address, social security number and unemployment claimant identification information, the lawmaker said in a statement.

Bryant, of Murphysboro in southern Illinois, said she “immediately” took the issue to Pritzker’s office and the state employment agency. On Saturday, she sent Pritzker and the employment agency director a letter calling on the governor to “immediately release any information about this potential data breach as soon as possible so those affected can protect themselves from identity theft and fraud.”

The department processed more than 1 million initial claims between March 1 and May 2, compared with 78,100 initial claims during the same period in 2019, state officials have said.

©2020 the Chicago Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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