News for Public Officials and the People They Serve

Texas GOP Calls for Veto of Clerks’ Immunity Bill

 

The Texas State Republican Executive Committee (SREC), during its March 24, 2007 meeting, unanimously called for Governor Rick Perry to veto a bill that would give immunity to Texas Clerks who may have violated state and federal laws by publishing Social Security numbers online and selling the records in bulk.

 

HB 2061 was rushed through both the Texas House and Senate in March as a solution to an opinion rendered by Attorney General Greg Abbott in February in response to a request from Fort Bend County Clerk Dianne Wilson. For years Wilson had published millions of records online before asking the Attorney General if the practice was legal.

 

While most Texas clerks have not published document images online, a small percentage of the 254 counties have published the sensitive documents on county websites where they are accessible by billions of Internet users worldwide.

 

Abbott’s answer (GA-0519) warned clerks across Texas that under state law distribution of confidential information constitutes official misconduct and a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or confinement in the county jail for up to six months.

 

 In addition, Abbott pointed out that the U.S. Social Security Act declared SSN’s confidential in 1990.

 

In HB 2061, legislators gave county clerks' immunity from prosecution and lawsuits by citizens for releasing Social Security Numbers and also declared that Social Security numbers would no longer be considered protected under state law if stored in records the clerks maintained.

 

The Executive Committee expressed concern over the legislation because it believed that the protection of citizens was being threatened by the approval of a bill that protected the county clerks but put citizens at risk.

 

“The inadvertent or deliberate release by organizations that collect sensitive personal information beyond what is required to conduct the activity for which the information was initially collected can contribute to identify theft, fraud, interruption of personal lives, damage to reputations, financial loss and risks associated with national security”.

 

The unauthorized release or misuse of sensitive personal information can create a tremendous burden and costs for any citizen who must deal with that misuse.

 

In addition to calling for the Governor to veto HB 2061, the SREC asked the Governor and Legislators to support several bills that have been filed in support of citizen protection. The bills that were endorsed were HB 59, a broad bill protecting sensitive information that was filed by State Representative Carl Isett (R-Lubbock) and SB 205, filed by Senator Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville) to protect sensitive health information. 

 

The resolution also called for passage of SB 1005 which was filed by Senator Kyle Janek (R-Houston) in an earlier attempt to offer a reasonable solution to the Attorney General’s opinion. SB 1005 extended the time frame for clerks to redact personal information but retained the protected designation for SSN’s.  

 

The SREC of Texas is supporting the passage of SB205, SB1005 and HB59 in order to protect the personal and confidential information of the citizens of Texas and to reduce the impact of misuse of sensitive or confidential personal information in areas related to identify theft, fraud, Homeland Security, illegal immigration and national security.

 

Update: Governor Perry signed HB 2061 four days later on March 28, 2007

 

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