Wednesday, January 09, 2008

State of Wisconsin flubs identity handling (redux)

Haven't we seen this movie before?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that a state mailing may have compromised the identities of thousands of Wisconsinites because of Social Security numbers that were inadvertently printed on mailing labels.

I published a column last year in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after approximately 171,000 taxpayer social security numbers adorned the front of tax booklets. I also mentioned in that column, another breach (not cited in today's Journal Sentinel story) by a human resources aide who mishandled social security numbers of state assembly members.

The only thing more astonishing than all of this repeated carelessness, is the blatant blame game being played. It appears that the State Department of Health and Family Services and Governor Doyle's spokesman, Matt Canter, are feigning indignation in order to place the blame squarely (and entirely) on the vendor, EDS.

I remember the Mea Culpa letter last year from the printer that accompanied a similar letter from the Department of Revenue explaining and taking responsibility for that debacle. At least, there was a semblance of accountability communicated by the Department of Revenue.

In today's JS story, the Guv's spokesman Matt Canter, suggests that there is a big difference between last year's data goof and this new one because last year, the printer had no use for the data compromised, but EDS needed the data to do it's processing this year.  So what?

How does that make State government any less responsible? In both cases state government provided the data files containing our social security numbers to a vendor. Therefore it's incumbent upon them to review and sign off before irretrievable damage goes out the door.

Here's the first step for a patient to heal thyself - admit you have a problem and stop blaming the vendor. Next, examine your processes and what went wrong- then implement new controls and test them, again and again and again - to make sure they are working.

We don't need to have someone's head - just take responsibility, analyze it and fix it.

Also announced today was Governor Doyle's commendable effort to expand tax incentives for research and development at Wisconsin companies.  If only we could persuade the Governor's administration to research and develop better state processes for handling our critical data.