Jefferson County site pulled down after personal information found to be accessible

October 30, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A "potentially devastating situation" unfolded Wednesday when the Jefferson County Clerk's Office realized that a new online records search program begun last Friday gave Internet access to individuals' Social Security numbers and other personal information, Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan said.

Maghan said Wednesday afternoon she did not know how many Social Security numbers were accessible online, but she said a software program was being run to redact, or remove, Social Security numbers and that it would take about a month for the software to scan "millions of documents."

The personal information was mostly from county residents, although information from people outside the county might have been exposed, Maghan said.

Maghan, whose office oversees the records, said she decided to pull the service off the Internet at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday after determining that Social Security numbers were exposed.


Maghan said she believes the computer company that worked on the program - CSSI - should have detected the problem, but she was taking responsibility for the situation.

In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, Maghan "deeply apologized" for the scare, and she wants citizens to be assured that the online feature will not be restored until she is certain that personal information of county residents is protected from online predators.

"Unfortunately, this kind of fell through the cracks. I'm so upset about it," Maghan said in a telephone interview.

Jefferson County Commission member Rusty Morgan said Wednesday night he had not heard about the problem and did not know why the commission was not notified.

"It seems like it's important enough we would be informed," Morgan said.

Morgan said he did not understand how such a problem could happen, adding that it seemed it would have been identified when the software work for the program started a couple of weeks ago.

"I'm sure we'll be discussing it tomorrow," said Morgan, referring to this morning's regular county commission meeting.

A man who answered the phone at a CSSI office in Morgantown, W.Va, said the employee who is working on the program was not in the office Wednesday. No one else in the office could comment, the man said.

The online records search allows searches of public records like property deeds, tax liens and judgments, Maghan said.

The service allows people such as attorneys to do legal work more efficiently, and similar programs have been started in Monongalia, Wood and Kanawaha counties, Maghan said.

Maghan said she started getting phone calls from concerned residents Tuesday saying that Social Security numbers were in the online records. Maghan said once she verified that there was a problem, she made the move to take down the service.

Software used to redact Social Security numbers will remove about 80 percent of the numbers, and the rest will have to be manually deleted, Maghan said.

Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney said Wednesday that her office has done "some redacting" of Social Security numbers on the office's online records but there are "some spots" where Social Security numbers still appear online.

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