TACOMA, Wash. — A county in Washington inadvertently released nearly half a million partial Social Security Numbers when responding to a routine public records request in December, according to county officials.
The Pierce County Auditor’s Office, which mistakenly released the sensitive data, said in a news release that the human error was quickly spotted and that the person who received the SSN digits deleted them within two hours. The requester had not asked for the personal information.
“First let me say that I am incredibly sorry that this happened,” Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer said in statement. Farmer added that this was not a targeted hack, and that “we have taken steps to ensure it does not happen again.”
The Social Security number information was included in a routine request for publicly available voter registration data, which typically includes names, addresses and birth dates. Personally identifiable information, including Social Security number information, which can be used to commit identify theft, is exempt from public disclosure.
In a Jan. 17 letter sent to the 463,110 voters affected, Whitney Stevens, the public records officer for the auditor’s office, apologized and outlined steps those impacted can take to protect their private information and monitor for fraud.
“We have confirmed that there was no widespread dissemination of information and no retention or copying of the information by the requester,” Stevens saiid. “We encourage you, as always, to remain vigilant and monitor your account statements, insurance transactions, and free credit reports for potential fraud and identity theft, and promptly report any concerns.”
In response to question from the The News Tribune, spokesperson for Pierce County Libby Catalinich said the county is requiring information to be reviewed by a second employee before it is released to the public.
Catalinich did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.