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Another Awesomely Bad Error for the City!

By Olivia Leigh in News on Jan 22, 2007 7:55PM

Predicting the actions of the city and county boards is nearly impossible. One never really knows who will be arrested on corruption charges this week, what sort of zany plan alderman will propose next, or as we recently learned, how easily sensitive data can magically go missing.

The Chicago Board of Elections announced that about 100 CDs with 1.3 million Chicago voters’ Social Security numbers were given out to alderman and ward committeemen, along with an additional six CDs unaccounted for.

2007_01_doh.jpgThe CDs included other sensitive data, such as addresses and birth dates, making the discs a veritable breeding ground for identity theft.

Peter Zelchenko, the 43rd Ward aldermanic candidate and the same man who discovered the security breach on the board’s Web site in October, unearthed the numbers on a “ward Work” CD that is supposed to provide names and addresses for prospective voters, and is available to anyone affiliated with an aldermanic campaign.

Board spokesman Tom Leach said that the numbers were accidentally included on the discs after the 2003 fire at 69 W. Washington, where computers were kept that included voter records. “We couldn't maintain our voter-registration system, so they downloaded the whole file for committeemen and aldermen,” said Leach. Smart.

According to the article, the board doesn’t seem to be taking any monumental steps, save possibly launching an audit and notifying the voters whose information may have been included. Zelchenko – who is starting to sound like the only guy with a sound head on his shoulders – took the initiative to start a Web site,, where registered voters can see if their information was on the CDs.

Jacob Furst, a computer scientist at DePaul, mentioned that he imagines the board as people with great intentions, “but don’t know enough about the possible consequences of using technology and so are making mistakes.” Indeed, Mr. Furst. If only the board would hire some young, know-it-all techies (or, you know, at least some people who would realize that you probably shouldn’t put SSNs on hundreds of CDs that are distributed freely). We’ll keep our eyes out on the job board.