If the Freedom Foundation Exposes Public Employee Information, Could The State of Washington be Liable?

Large companies spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to keep our personal information confidential and secure, yet there are reports almost every single day about a new data breach that leaves Americans at risk. Birth dates, home addresses, credit card numbers and more are posted in the dark corners of the Internet, and it’s just a matter of time until almost every one of us will have to deal with this ourselves.

All it took was for a laptop with access to 10,000 patients’ records to be stolen from the University of Mississippi Medical Center for the hospital to be investigated by the federal government and be forced to settle with the Department of Health and Human Services for $2.75 million. [The Clarion-Ledger, 7/22/16]

Last year, the FCC imposed a $25 million civil penalty on AT&T “to settle a breach that exposed the information of nearly 280,000 customers” when call center employees used customer information to unlock stolen phones. [Latham & Watkins’ Global Privacy & Security Compliance Law Blog, 4/14/15]

And yet, as part of a union member harassment campaign, the anti-worker Freedom Foundation is seeking personal information of public employees in Washington state, including the dates of birth and home addresses of school teachers, firefighters, nurses and law enforcement personnel.

According to security experts from an ABC News article, that information leaves union members incredibly vulnerable to identity theft. “Your Zip Code, Birthdate Is an Identity Thief’s Dream” (sic). The report goes on to state that “the most dangerous piece of information you can give out is your birthdate.” Not only that, but “a birthdate, along with a name and hometown can be used in a formula to recreate your Social Security information.” [ABC News, 2/23/11]

Could the State of Washington be opening themselves up to liability if they release this information and it is used inappropriately or, Heaven forbid, stolen?