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May 2nd, 2008

Sensitive Data Said To Be Available On California Riverside County Superior Court Website

Privacy researches claim that Social Security numbers, medical histories, tax records, bank account data and other sensitive types of personal data are freely available online via the website of the Superior Court in California’s Riverside County.

According to researchers, searches done on the court’s website turned up various documents related to civil cases that contained sensitive information, including complete tax filings, medical reports pertaining to cases handled by the court, and images of checks complete with signatures as well as account and bank-routing numbers. Among the records available for access and view on the Superior Court website are documents containing the Social Security numbers of several elected officials in Riverside County and of nearly 1,000 CHP (California Highway Patrol) officers. Altogether, the website potentially holds “thousands and thousands” of documents with personally identifiable information.

It wasn’t possible to verify that claim, nor was it immediately clear how easily accessible the personal data is. A specific case number must be entered in the records search field on the court’s website to access the documents. It seems there is a possibility to search and retrieve documents by last names. According to one of the researchers, “Once you get the gist of it, it’s very easy for anyone with half a brain to find such records”. It seems medical records, SSNs, dates of birth, attempted suicide records with restricted police information are available to anyone.

Gary Whitehead, director of IT for the Superior Court, said that court officials currently are aware of only five online records containing sensitive personal data. Court officials were also informed of the alleged availability of the document with the Social Security numbers of CHP officers, but Whitehead said his staff hasn’t been able to find it on the website thus far. He added that he was unaware of any documents containing the protected data of elected officials.

CHPForums administrator, identified as “DW”, posted a response to demand that the Riverside County court block online access to documents until Social Security numbers are removed from them. On April 23 “DW” said that the issue was “being seriously addressed within our ranks.”

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