Posted by Christine Link, Cleveland October 31, 2008 04:45AM
Link is executive director of the ACLU of Ohio.
I was deeply disturbed to hear that state officials approved the use of government databases to obtain information about Joseph Wurzelbacher, also known as "Joe the Plumber." Rather than using state databases for their intended purpose, it seems some officials believe they can breach private information simply to satisfy their curiosity about someone in the public eye.
The most chilling aspect of this situation came from the explanation by Job & Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley stating that her office regularly conducts searches on peoples' personal information if they appear in high-profile news stories. Jones-Kelley had no evidence that Wurzelbacher owed any back child support, yet she still initiated the search. This is not only unethical, but a dangerous violation of our privacy.
It is appalling that government officials believe they may access a person's private information simply for being in a newspaper headline. This unethical practice only confirms that our state government does not have adequate checks in place to protect our privacy, leaving our most personal information vulnerable to the whims of a person's curiosity. Many people also could be frightened from speaking to members of the media or expressing their views because they could come under scrutiny of our state government.
This problem is crying out for immediate action by our top state leaders. All departments should have ethical procedures for accessing Ohioans' personal information, safeguards against people wrongfully accessing private data and clear consequences for violating these rules. In an age where so much information is available electronically at the touch of our fingertips, our leaders must create better safeguards against unfair breaches of our privacy.
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