Clerk whose website exposed Social Security numbers says public needs to take responsibility

Clerk calls coverage of website "tabloidish"
Posted at 6:41 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 21:57:20-04

LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. -- The county clerk whose website published thousands of public records containing sensitive information like names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth said the public needs to take responsibility for monitoring their own personal information posted online.

Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Angela Myers spoke to the county’s board of commissioners about the website Tuesday morning, a day after Denver7 Investigates revealed the sensitive information was available for anyone to download for months.

“The tenor of what you put on was more tabloid-ish rather than really helping the situation, even for the public,” Myers told Denver7 after the meeting. “You didn't explain that the public record is there for a purpose and it's used for commerce every day." 

The county’s public records portal included access to several documents including death certificates, liens, and commercial borrowing forms that included citizens' Social Security numbers, addresses, names and other details that could be attractive for identity thieves.

Denver7 Investigates registered for the website using an email address that referenced stealing identities and proceeded to download dozens of personal documents, some of them several decades old.

"The idea that you could actually redact them …  to the extent that they would be completely scrubbed of any personal information is probably ridiculous and anyone who says that is probably not being honest," county commissioner Tom Donnelly told Myers in the meeting.  He was referring to the fact Larimer County, like many counties, records hundreds of thousands of documents in a given year.

Denver7’s report showed several other counties in Colorado use the same public records software and either redact Social Security numbers or keep sensitive documents from being downloaded online.

Myers did make sweeping changes to the website after Denver7 started asking questions, adding a "caution" note to the site and removing online access for the documents that included Social Security numbers.

"I always look for the positive in any situation.  This situation has one as well -- and that positive, the real win here, is the education of the public. I think the public always needs to be reminded that they have identities online that need care," Myers said.

Denver7 Investigates wanted to know if anyone’s identity was compromised because of the information available online and requested information from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office about all identity theft reports made in the months since the site went active in December. Interestingly, the sheriff’s office protected the names of everyone who had reported identity theft in that time period in its response to that records request.

Myers said she was not aware of anyone whose identity was stolen because of the information made available online.