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Gov't agency exposes day care data.

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Old February 10th 04, 11:05 PM
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Default Gov't agency exposes day care data.


"..and that you may never experience the
humility that the power of the American Government
has reduced me to, is the wish of him, who, in his
native forests, was once as proud and bold as yourself."
Blackhawk 1833
Old February 14th 04, 03:32 AM
Greg Hanson
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Default Gov't agency exposes day care data.


Government agency exposes day-care data
Daily whereabouts of hundreds of children posted on public Web site
This is a screenshot of some of the day-care data made publicly
available on the Internet. MSNBC.com has blurred out specific names.


By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent MSNBC
Updated: 6:59 p.m. ET Feb. 08, 2004A government subcontractor posted
the names, birthdays and daily whereabouts of hundreds of upstate New
York children to the Internet, where the information remained publicly
available for weeks until MSNBC.com notified authorities.

The incident offers a glimpse into the murky world of government
outsourcing and its impact on citizens' privacy. The computer data --
which also listed the names, addresses and other details of low-income
and foster families -- passed through three layers of subcontractors
on its journey to the Internet.

Officials at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services
and in Livingston County, where the incident occured, are
investigating. Livingston County's social services office is located
in Lima, just a few miles south of Rochester, N.Y.

Two separate databases with personal information about children and
their families were exposed. In one case, a list of children in the
county's low-income day-care program was intentionally posted for
download on Jan. 22 to a Web site used by computer programmers to hire
temporary help. Another database, listing families participating in
the county's foster care program, was posted to the same Web site in
November. Both remained on the site, free for anyone to download,
until they were removed Thursday.

The information revealed was explicit. In addition to names,
birthdays, and other personal information, a memo field in the
database chronicled each child's daily routine:

"M,Tue. & Fri when mother attends treatment program and therapy,(
approx. 20 hrs per wk)"
"M-F, when mom attneds {sic} classes @ GCC & dad is working,"
"M,TU,TH,F; 8:15-4 until school starts. Foster parent-(name removed).
Eff 2/7/03, new foster parents-(names removed). Eff 2/24/03,Th & sch
It's unclear precisely how many children were exposed by the data
leak, but the number is in the hundreds. A file called "tblchildren"
listed 459 entries, while another labeled "tblpurgedchildren" had 774

"I can't believe this," said child privacy advocate Parry Aftab, who
operates WiredSafety.org. "This is horrible."

Some Internet data leaks are relatively harmless, as files are posted
to obscure Web addresses that may never be viewed by strangers. In
this case, however, it's clear the childrens' data made its way into
the public eye. The Web site where the databases were leaked
encouraged visitors to download the information, and the pages where
they were offered were viewed by hundreds of people.

Commissioner Sandy Wright, who heads the Livingston County Department
of Social Services, spoke briefly to MSNBC.com and said she was
investigating the matter, but didn't respond to follow-up interview

Posting of the data on the Internet runs afoul of New York state's
confidentiality laws, said Kent Kisselbrack, spokesman for the New
York Office of Children and Family Services, which regulates the
county agency that leaked the data.

"Personal information of the nature that was on this Web site,
especially information about children, it's not appropriate for this
kind of information to be available to the general public,"
Kisselbrack said. The data was removed on Thursday afternoon, when his
agency contacted the Web site where the data was posted and asked that
it be taken down.

"We have been informed by Sandy Wright that appropriate steps will be
taken against the employee responsible," Kisselbrack said. "And we
will remind counties around the state about developing proper
procedures when developing databases that do or will contain
confidential information."

Job outsourced three separate times
Just how the data ended up on the Internet is an alarming window into
the use of outside computer service providers by government agencies
in the age of increasing outsourcing of development work.

The data was ultimately leaked to the public when it was posted on
RentACoder.com, a Web site that helps computer programmers find
temporary work. Users looking to hire programmers post jobs to the
site, and engineers from around the world bid on the projects, often
driving the price down sharply. Programmers stuck with tricky problems
also post individual questions, inviting other programmers to supply
answers, sometimes for as little as $15.

That's how personal details about hundreds of children ended up on the
Internet. A user named Mark Dennis, stuck with a tricky formatting
issue, posted his question to RentACoder -- and attached a zipped copy
of the database he was working on.

In November, Dennis posted a database front-end named "Respite," with
components named "Foster Care Unit," and "Intake Program Data." His
listing asking for help had been viewed 214 times by Feb. 4, according
to RentACoder's Web site. It's not likely all those visitors unzipped
the attached database, but there's no way to know how many did,
according to RentACoder CEO Dan Ippolito.

In January, Dennis did the same thing, posting a similar question on
Jan. 22 about an attached a zipped copy of a database named
"DayCareData." The job offer was viewed 127 times, according to
RentACoder's site.

On Jan. 26, another programmer -- who requested anonymity -- sent a
message to Dennis, warning him of the possible privacy problems. He
replied: "Thank you for the note. That was my mistake and I will be
more careful in the future," according to the programmer. The next
day, Dennis posted the same database in a different question.

County attorney David Morris said that programming work for the
day-care center had been outsourced to the locally-based Genesee
Community College. The manager of the college's program refused to
speak to a reporter, but Morris said Dennis was a third party
consultant hired by Genesee. Dennis, in turn, used RentACoder to once
again subcontract the database work, which ultimately fell to a New
Jersey-based programmer.

By that time, the programmer actually working on the day-care data was
four steps removed from the county's social services program.

Repeated attempts to contact Dennis were unsuccessful. The programmer
who took the job through RentACoder refused to comment on the

Families unaware of data leak
Ippolito said his company can't review the details of every single
advertisement that is posted on the site, but it has complaint
procedures in place if a user has a problem with any ad. While
copyright complaints are filed regularly, this is the first privacy
complaint the site has received, Ippolito said.

"We have pretty strict legal agreements in place. Buyers assume
responsibility for what they post," he said. "They certify that
anything they put up there is in full accordance with the law."

County officials have not yet determined if they will tell the
families involved about the incident. [ Kinda hard to decide with no
sense of
right and wrong! "Best interests of the child" balogna. ]

"It's kind of a shock," said Morris, the county attorney. "Right now
we are consulting with the state office ... to find out what
we’ve got to do."

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