KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Pierce County leaks precious data, KIRO’s Gee Scott among victims

Jan 23, 2023, 6:52 PM
pierce county...
In this photo illustration, a Social Security card sits alongside checks from the U.S. Treasury on October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo illustration by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
(Photo illustration by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Pierce County accidentally released approximately 500,000 partial Social Security numbers when responding to a routine public records request last month, according to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office.

The request was for voter registration data, which typically includes names, addresses, and birth dates. The mistake was quickly spotted, according to county officials, as the information that went public was quickly deleted within two hours.

One of the near-half a million residents affected was Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show.

“This is a huge deal,” said Gee. “Did they get all your social security information? No, not the whole number. But let me ask you a question. When you call your bank and they’re asking you to identify yourself: What’s your first, last name? What’s your date of birth? And then, the end all, tell all usually is … what are the last four digits of your Social Security number? Pow, there it is. I mean, think about that. If somebody gave you first, last name and last four digits of your social security number, would you want someone to have that information?”

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Personally identifiable information, including but not limited to a Social Security number, is exempt from public disclosure due to pending threats of identity theft.

A letter was sent out to Pierce County residents Jan. 17 explaining the situation. According to the letter, 463,110 Pierce County voters were affected.

Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer publicly apologized for the incident in a statement, while stating the county is now requiring information to be reviewed by a second employee before it is released to the public.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Andrew “Chef” Lanier, the producer for The Gee and Ursula Show, to a reply of groans from both Ursula and Gee. “It’s completely understandable how this happens. You just included one extra column in an Excel spreadsheet when it was sent out. And that is a big freakin’ whoopsie, but it’s one person and they deleted the data.

“I mean, how many times over the last two years, have you received an email saying that Experian released your entire data set? That Chase did the same? Walgreens did it. Venmo had one, everyone has had a data breach affect them at least five or six times in the last three, four years. The vast majority of us have done nothing about it.”

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Just in the past week, PayPal, Riot Games, T-Mobile, Insulet, and FanDuel have reported recent data breaches with letters to customers warning about potential accounts being compromised.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, it is a big deal. And I’m going to take it to another step,” Gee said in response to Lanier. “Some of our listeners say they don’t do any social media. We have a lot of folks that say, ‘Hey, I go into the bank. I don’t use a lot of the technology because I don’t want my information given out that way.’ But here, I need to vote. Here’s my information. Pierce County Auditor, you guys got my information. And you still have a data breach. When I don’t do any other technology other than trying to vote smart.”

Ursula cited a listener’s text describing the nonchalant attitude the Pierce County Auditor’s Office portrayed over the accident, “as if it was an inconvenience to them and not the people who are having their personal info stolen.”

“It is a big deal,” Ursula said in response to the text. “A lot of companies need to step up their game and stop these breaches. It’s infuriating that it is the Auditor’s Office.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Gee and Ursula Show

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Pierce County leaks precious data, KIRO’s Gee Scott among victims