State agency leaves Arizonans’ sensitive documents in dumpster

Susan Casper reports on what some dumpster divers found in Payson, Arizona and the state agency’s response:

The women’s hunt for savings turns up thousands of sensitive documents exposing the personal information of hundreds of Arizonans; confidential material a thief could use to steal your identity sitting at the bottom of a recycling bin.

“There’s probably 1,000, I’d say, applications,” Perkins said.

The applications were for the WIC program, which provides food and health services for low-income pregnant women.

I was outraged,” Perkins said angrily. “I could not believe that I was actually seeing drivers licenses and one had a social security number on it. Yeah I was surprised, so that’s why I took it home and that’s why I called you.”

Lynda contacted ABC15 after first finding the private medical forms. Then several days later, we joined her for another dumpster dive and found even more piles of private paperwork in the same recycling bin.

It’s not clear from the above whether the records they found on the later dumpster dive were still there from a previous discard or if this was evidence of yet even more records being discarded on a subsequent day. Either way, it’s concerning.

State employee Sherri Miller runs the Payson WIC office and told ABC15 she was responsible for tossing the sensitive information. “Normally we would shed these things,” explained Miller.

When asked why the forms were not shredded, but rather thrown in a recycling bin, Millers responded, “I couldn’t tell you the answer to that I don’t know. We’re just making space, it was just that simple…… Normally I would take the time and go through them individually but I didn’t,” she replied. “We’re going to get them out and you just have to accept my extreme apologies.”

So far, an apology may be all that affected individuals are getting, as I see no mention of offering them any free credit monitoring services:

“I apologize for the mistake,” said Gila County Health and Emergency Services Director Michael Driscoll. “We’re going to take a close look at it and make sure this doesn’t happen again. I’m not happy with it but it was human error and we learn from our mistakes and we will correct this.”

Would you be satisfied with this explanation and response? If it was my medical and sensitive information in there, I wouldn’t be. And of course, those on welfare programs have less resources to fight back against state misconduct or to sue for relief.

But there’s no crime here and no one will be prosecuted. Those responses are reserved for hackers who acquire and dump much less sensitive data.  After all, they are criminals, right? State employees who just expose you to the risk of identity theft or embarrassment are just…. making a human error.

Read more on ABC15.

Note of April 3:  To respond to an e-mail I received about this incident:  I was referring to a state-level crime.  This breach falls under HHS/HIPAA rule and should be reported to HHS, who may pursue the matter and fine the agency.  But there is nothing in Arizona state law that makes this type of data disposal a prosecutable crime.  And some of us think that callous disposal of sensitive information should lead to jail time in some cases.

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