Editorials

We applaud the PEER committee for taking action to protect our personal information

Some of the records that were found blowing across the Bay St. Louis bridge in May.
Some of the records that were found blowing across the Bay St. Louis bridge in May. Sun Herald File

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance, Evaluation and Expenditure Review recognized the urgent need to fix a broken system that failed to protect the privacy of thousands.

And we commend them for quickly investigating the security gaps that led to thousands of pages of documents containing sensitive information being strewn across the Bay St. Louis bridge.

It began in May when two women driving across the bridge ran into a virtual storm of pages.

“There were so many of them,” said Nikki Frost. “It almost caused two accidents because people couldn’t see where they were driving.”

The documents were traced to the defunct Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, which failed to follow proper procedures when disposing of the thousands of pages that eventually wound up being carried off by the wind. The agency, which operated under the authority of the state Department of Human Services, closed in 2015 after it lost federal funding. By 2016, it had assured DHS all its documents had been properly disposed of. Then, more than a year later, thousands of them fell off a truck.

Since then, thousands of people have been notified that their sensitive information may have been compromised.

It took PEER just five months from the day those documents hit the bridge to find flaws in the state’s system for storing, disposing of and sanitizing sensitive documents. That’s an impressive turnaround, and the PEER leadership — Chairman Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach, Vice Chairman Sen. Videt Charmichael of Meridian and Secretary Sen. Lydia Chassaniol of Winona — have our appreciation.

They found the state was using a paper-oriented system in the digital age, and there is no uniform system for storing documents, destroying them when they had outlived their usefulness and scrubbing them of Social Security numbers and the like. And they found agencies were collecting unnecessary information — full Social Security numbers rather than the last four digits, for example.

Now, the Legislature must act on PEER’s recommendations. We would hope there are bills ready to go when it convenes in early January. We agree with PEER that the state needs a uniform and carefully crafted system for keeping confidential information confidential.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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