Expert says charges could be filed against Wilson
By B.J. Pollock - Fort Bend Herald
Reprinted with permission
The broadcasting of Fort Bend County citizens' Public Records containing sensitive information such as Social Security numbers was brought to light by the Fort Bend Herald in December, 2005.
This week, the Texas Attorney General ruled it illegal for the county to post such documents on its Web site.
Just over a year ago, Fort Bend County Clerk Dianne Wilson defended her decision to make available some 15 to 20 million such Public Records, saying the public has the right to access those records according to state statute.
One resident who was vocal with Wilson's office and adamant in his opposition to such information being made available said he is "very pleased" at the Attorney General's decision.
"It's ironic how it worked out," he said Thursday, adding an individual from Wilson's office "called me some time ago and told me (My wife's) and my Social Security numbers had been redacted. I went and checked on it and saw that all but four numbers had been redacted. That's only like rubbing salt into the wound. The way I understand it, mine is off (the county Web site) because I was one of the squeaky wheels."
The rest of the population, he said, is apparently "going to have to wait" until Wilson takes action on this week's ruling.
"Anyone who does any research on any of this knows she's been making money on it," the resident said of Wilson's bulk sale of county records.
When Precinct 1, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Gary Geick heard of the practice in 2005, he said it was likely the cause for numerous solicitation calls he receives from as far away as New Jersey.
Both Geick and Richmond Mayor Hilmar Moore said at the time they believed the general public had no idea their personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank names and account numbers, driver's license numbers, holdings and even medical information was being published and sold by the county. Both also said they felt the practice should be stopped immediately.
David Bloys, a retired private investigator specializing in frauds, stalking cases and political investigations, has focused the past couple of years on getting legislation passed that would prohibit county officials from publishing the document images over the Internet, stop vendors from marketing the information and prevent the bulk sale of Public Records.
"I'm excited about it (the AG's ruling) because it kind of verifies everything that we've been saying all along. To me, it makes it clear: She's in violation now; she's been in violation from the beginning," Bloys said Thursday.
He said each instance of a document including a Social Security number posted on the county's Web site is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 and jail time, and it's Wilson who could face such charges. Bloys said it's also possible Wilson could have felony charges brought against her.
Bloys said he's found over 1,000 instances of Fort Bend County residents' Social Security numbers being posted on the county's Web site by Wilson's office.
He said according to the Attorney General's opinion, posting such documents constitutes misconduct by a public official, and anyone who's had their Social Security numbers published by Wilson's office can file charges against her. She can be expelled from office as a result, Bloys said.
"She's going to say that she has decided to take the Social Security numbers out. Well, it appears to me that the Attorney General told her to," he said. "I'm a little tired of Wilson taking credit for stuff she doesn't do."
Bloys said Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers, "not Wilson, originally asked for that opinion and the county attorney at the time wrote it up," making changes to it.
"They were trying to get an opinion from the AG that would allow them to hold up that HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) report, and they certainly didn't get it from this," said Bloys. "In fact, they got just the opposite."
Meyers said Friday morning he was pleased with the Attorney General's ruling.
"The government should be the servant of the people, not the master," Meyers said. "It should protect the interests of the people we serve, and that means protecting their privacy and following federal and state law. And the Attorney General's opinion indicates we're not doing that."
Meyers said the Attorney Generals opinion refers to "confidential information," which includes health, banking and other data as well.
"We should not expose our citizens to potential embarrassment or identity theft or anything of that nature," he added.
The bottom line, said Bloys, is that Wilson "is in violation here. She never should have done it. She can take this (information) down, but she can't undo the damage she's already done."
"I can't tell you how excited I am about this," he added. "What it means is, no one's going to be able to sit in Pakistan and peruse our records."
Bloys said he's going to "continue to work with the Legislature to get some laws that will give even greater restrictions than the AG's ruling."
"No more selling these records," he said. "If someone wants to look at them, they can go to the county courthouse and look at them, just like they have for the past 200 years."