Identity Theft Potential in the California Voter Registration List

When everyone and their uncle was running for California Governor back in 2003, the recall election, a friend of mine decided to throw his hat into the race too.  He filed papers at the Department of Elections in San Francisco City Hall and bought a CD for $3 containing the list of all registered voters in SF County.  He could have bought CD for every county since he registered to run for a State office.  When I looked at the information on the Excel spreadsheet on the CD, it contained about 450,000 people and for every one of them, their name, address, phone number, party affiliations and birthdates.  The last one was the shocker.

Birthdates are identity theft vehicles just like social security numbers.  I called the department of elections and told them that I had no problem with the collection of this information for the purposes of proving that the person who shows up to vote is, in fact, that person.  However I did not want my birthdate being given out.  They laughingly responded that its ok since only people that run for office can access that list.  My response: 1) I did not register to run and I am looking at it; 2) you have no way of knowing who else can see it (for example maybe some unpaid inter who picks up the CDs makes a copy to sell so they can afford rent); 3) “The politicians are many of the people I am afraid of!”  Since the list is in no way protected, once the excel sheet is picked up, you have no idea where it goes after that or who sees / uses it.  Anyone in the campaign office can copy that spreadsheet.  It’s used for mailings, phone calls, all sorts of campaign marketing programs.  Whoever has that list can copy it in seconds.”  They then gave up and told me that the process is run by the California Secretary of State so I should contact them.

I called the California Secretary of State’s office and was told the same thing about the list being safe because only certain people can get it.  What a surprise.  I called around that office until I found someone who said that every once in a while someone figures this out.  He agreed with me that it’s a problem, but ultimately the list and release of information is governed by laws and I would have to get the laws changed.  I called a few Senators, Assembly people and the Governor’s office and none of them would do anything about it.  Gee, what another surprise.

I then called Michael Finney, consumer reporter at KGO.  He was very busy and didn’t have much time to talk, but when I told him the 10 second shpeel, he stopped everything he was doing and came over with a camera in 20 minutes to see the disk and do a report.  He was shocked.  A few weeks later, I called him and asked if I had just missed the report as I hadn’t seen it on tv.  He said he didn’t broadcast it as he was afraid of giving people a good idea.

So now, I am telling people through this article. I would like to see more people try to do something about this.

Since then, I believe California has added Driver License numbers to the list.



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