School accidentally sends out thousands of social security numbers

June 30, 2010 3:22:04 PM PDT
A social security number is vitally important personal information that should be closely guarded. One resident in the small New Jersey town of Sparta was shocked when he received thousands of social security numbers sent directly to him by the town school.

Taxpayer Jesse Wolosky wanted to see how the school where he lived was spending its money, so he filed an Open Records request for the names of all the vendors doing business for the Sparta School District. In return, he got thousands of names of contractors and consultants. Surprisingly, included in the files were their private social security numbers.

"That was alarming, I know that should have been redacted, not sent to me," said Wolosky.

Wendi Blanchard, who did technology training for Sparta teachers 15 years ago, blames her former employer for being careless with her personal information.

"That they would retain this information as an active vendor seems foolish first of all, second of all, I am just appalled that anyone would be so cavalier and just not even check something like this in this day and age when we are so concerned about our identity." Blanchard said.

New Jersey's Open Public Records Act clearly states "A public agency has a responsibility and an obligation to safeguard" personal information. To not do so would "violate a citizen's reasonable expectation of privacy."

Essentially, the school district violated the Open Public Records Act.

"We made a mistake including the wrong file, yes. We openly admit that but hopefully that information hasn't been disseminated beyond Mr. Wolosky and that he'll return the information," said Dr. Warren Ceurvels of the Sparta School District.

Wolosky intends to return the documents in exchange for ones without social security numbers. What troubles him is what else may have fallen through the cracks.

"Because if someone can send this kind of information and on something as simple as this, they can't do this right, there are probably many other things they are not doing right," said Wolosky.

The school administrator insists the district is careful with personal information and that this is the first time something like this has happened.

Wolosky, who was already worried about how the school was being run, says this just adds to his concerns.

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