Georgia accidentally releases personal data of 6 million citizens

Secretary of State calls voter data release 'clerical error'

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp
photo Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp

ATLANTA - Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp acknowledged Wednesday that Social Security numbers and other personal information for the state's more than 6 million registered voters were released last month to political parties and media organizations, as his office faces a lawsuit filed this week.

Attorney Jennifer Auer Jordan filed the complaint in Fulton County Superior Court on behalf of two women and is seeking class-action status. The lawsuit says driver's license numbers and dates of birth also were included in the files that Kemp's office disseminated in October.

Kemp's office regularly sends an updated list of all registered voters in the state to political parties and media organizations as allowed by Georgia law. The state charges a $500 fee for others who want to buy the file. It is only supposed to include a voter's name, residence, mailing address, race, gender, registration date and last voting date.

Kemp said in a statement that the personal information was put in the wrong file because of a "clerical error." He said 12 recipients got discs containing the information.

"This violated the policies that I put in place to protect voters personal information," Kemp said. "My office undertook immediate corrective action, including contacting each recipient to retrieve the disc, and I have taken additional administrative action within the agency to deal with the error."

A spokeswoman for Kemp did not respond immediately to questions about which organizations received the discs and whether all copies have been returned.

Update at 1 p.m.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a news release his office has now secured all 12 discs sent from his office that contained personally identifiable voter information. "All 12 discs containing sensitive voter information have been retrieved or destroyed," Kemp said. "My staff has verified with the media outlets and political parties that received these discs that they have not copied or otherwise disseminated confidential voter data to outside sources. I am confident that our voters' personal information has not been compromised." "I take full responsibility for this mistake and have taken immediate action to resolve it. The employee at fault has been fired, and I have put in place additional safeguards effective immediately to ensure this situation does not happen again."

The lawsuit says records for 6,184,281 registered voters were included in the October file. Statistics posted on the agency's website listed 6,036,491 registered voters as of Nov. 4, 2014. The voter file is updated regularly as people enroll or are removed.

Jordan said her clients want Kemp's office to notify people who were affected along with credit agencies and to provide credit monitoring for those who want it.

"If you're a Republican, you're on the list," she said. "If you're a Democrat, you're on the list. If you're a Libertarian, you're on the list. We should all be outraged that this happened."

Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said the party received a disk in October but didn't have the database software to read the personal information. He said Kemp's office asked that the disc be returned and the party complied. Ryan Mahoney, spokesman for the Georgia Republican Party, said staff fromKemp's office picked up an unopened disc from the party's headquarters.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that it confirmed the additional personal information was on a disc it received by looking up a reporter's information. The newspaper said it returned its disc to the state.

Jordan said she also had returned a disc containing the voter file to the Secretary of State's office.

"I was happy to turn it over," she said. "Our firm has a safe, but we're not equipped to protect that kind of information."