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City Accidentally Releases Thousands of Retirees’ Social Security Numbers

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The city of Providence on Tuesday accidentally released the Social Security numbers of nearly 3,000 former employees in response to a public records request.

In February, GoLocalProv filed an Access to Public Records Act request to obtain information about pension recipients in the capital city. The city’s legal team responded by e-mailing a .pdf file which listed every retiree, their retirement date, the date they began receiving a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), and the amount they receive each month.

The list also included columns for Social Security numbers and employee identification numbers that appeared to be redacted, but when the document was enlarged, the numbers were clearly on display. A closer review revealed that the city had only altered the “highlight” color of the document and that a change to the color revealed every retiree’s most personal information.

It is unclear how many copies of the file, which is accessible to any reporter or member of the public who requests it, have been sent out. It is also unclear if such a mistake has been made in the past.

City Files Restraining Order

A city spokesman was informed of the mistake shortly before 1 p.m. and said he would provide a statement after consulting with city lawyers. Instead, the city filed for a restraining order in an attempt to prevent a story from being written.

Despite GoLocalProv explaining to the city both over the phone and through e-mail that it never intended to post any retiree’s Social Security numbers, the city requested that all records be destroyed and asked that the website refrain from publishing anything regarding the document. In court, Assistant City Solicitor Kevin F. McHugh argued that the numbers posed potentially "irreparable damage," to the city's retirees, especially in a "9/11" world.

GoLocalProv agreed that all documents should be deleted, but Judge Sarah Taft-Carter said she did not see sufficient justification to bar publication of a story--so long as no sensitive personal information was disclosed.

"I know it's embarrassing for the city," Taft-Carter said. “But I'm not sure if that's the standard."

Retirees Concerned About Release

The city is currently attempting to negotiate massive concessions from former city employees in its quest to remain solvent. Early this month, Mayor Angel Taveras held a forum with retirees to discuss the city’s financial woes. Providence faces a $22.5 million deficit in the current fiscal year and Taveras has said he plans to freeze all cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for retirees in an attempt to avoid municipal bankruptcy.

Representatives who retired from each of the major unions in the city have been asked to form committees by the end of this week to begin in-depth talks with the Taveras administration. The city hopes to have an agreement in place by May, but it has noted that any attempt to alter retirees’ pensions will likely end up in court.

But a lawyer and several retirees on Tuesday offered mixed opinions about the city mistakenly releasing sensitive information in a public records request.

“I'm sure it was done in error,” said Joseph Penza, the lawyer who represents the retired police officers firefighters.

“This had to be a terrible mistake, but I don’t want [a reporter] or anyone knowing my Social Security number,” one retiree said. “How could this happen?”

“I just hope [the city] lets everyone know what happened,” another retiree said. “You can never be too safe these days. I’d like to know how many people saw the document and why the Social Security numbers were there in the first place.”

Other former city employees said they were outraged. Former Mayor and City Council President John Lombardi and former union president Stephen Day, two outspoken critics of the current administration, demanded the city investigate the accidental release further.

“As a lawyer and a citizen, I feel this is a complete violation of my rights,” Lombardi said. “It’s an invasion of privacy. It’s unconscionable. [The pension records] are certainly publicly information, but not the Social Security number.”

Day said if the personal information for thousands of retirees fell into the wrong hands, it could be “Christmas for criminals.” He said an outside investigation should be conducted and suggested the city “pay for LifeLock or PrivacyGuard for every retiree” to make sure their personal information remains safe moving forward.

Identity Theft Concerns

The accidental release of sensitive personal information in a public records request is not uncommon, although the amount of Social Security numbers provided by the city is significant. Last March, the Bloomfield Hills School District in Michigan agreed to purchase one-year ProtectMyID plans for 321 employees whose Social Security numbers were released to two individuals.

In 2010, a New Jersey school district also released hundreds of Social Security numbers following a public records request.

According to a report released by the Governor Accountability Office (GAO) last year, there were 248,357 tax-related identity theft incidents in 2010, up from just 51,702 incidents in 2008. In testimony to the Senate subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth, Florida Senator Bill Nelson called identity theft a “serious and growing problem in the United States.”

“The hundreds of thousands of taxpayers with tax problems caused by identity theft represent a small percentage of the expected 140 million individual returns filed, but for those affected, the problems can be quite serious,” he said.


With reports from Greg Berman.

If you valued this article, please LIKE GoLocalProv.com on Facebook by clicking HERE.


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You really can't make this stuff up.

Comment #1 by donatello gori on 2012 03 21

we need "LIFELOCK" against municipal parasites like Steve Day...but ITS PAR FOR THE COURSE AT THE HALL !!

Comment #2 by louis rizzo on 2012 03 21

Let's see how the city blames this on George W. Bush.

Comment #3 by Brent Luchmann on 2012 03 21

Well now, could the city and the mayor have any more RAPED the city's retirees? First he wants to reduce medical benefits, then he wants to rid COLAs, now he releases personal information of these retirees. Why not just set the houses of these poor folks ablaze next???

Comment #4 by Adrienne Garriepy on 2012 03 21

Guaranteed the persons responsible are political hacks hired because of who they knew instead of qualifications. And nothing will happen to them because they enjoy lifetime employment regardless of performance because of strong political and union protections.

This is why governments are failing - no competition means little incentive to innovate or improve or hold people accountable.

Comment #5 by Christopher Lee on 2012 03 21

First they find 334k in checks that weren't cashed for more than a year and now this. Does anybody ever get fired there? Where is the accountability?

Comment #6 by anthony sionni on 2012 03 21

This story only further highlights the lack of command and control in city government. The total lack of competitiveness is alarming, don't forget that a few weeks ago we had a city department that collected $300,000+ in check and did not properly process them. Amazing!

Comment #7 by Patrick Holt on 2012 03 21

This really should get to Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News or even USA Today!!

Comment #8 by Adrienne Garriepy on 2012 03 21

Someone in the City made a mistake thinking they had blocked the SS numbers then sent the doc to Golocal. The people at Golocal turn around and make a news story out of this mistake. What about the original story for which the doc was requested? Where is that?

Comment #9 by Edward Smith on 2012 03 21

Mr Smith... great point, but the release of the documnet is really not a mistake. It had to go through at least two or more levels before GOLocal got it that is not a mistake that incompetence! The other alarming issue here is that it went through the Solicitors office.

Comment #10 by Patrick Holt on 2012 03 21

Rizzo you're worthless so Shut Up.

It appears you and Edward Smith are one and the same.

And neither are your real name. I think we now know who you are. Another cockroach that the light has found. Karma, dude.

(I know how you "love" to be called dude.)

Time for anither fake name, dude.

Comment #11 by Carol DeFeciani on 2012 03 21

Bring on the clowns - what a sad situation.

Comment #12 by Lance Chappell on 2012 03 21

Look at it this way, once the city desecrates the pensions of former employees, those numbers won't be worth a plug nickel.

Comment #13 by David Beagle on 2012 03 21

charles I think I know who you are talking about, wow!

Comment #14 by anthony sionni on 2012 03 21

Oh yeah. we know Buck'ner

Comment #15 by Bernie McCrink on 2012 03 21

looks like more than the incompetent mayor has been "outed."

Comment #16 by Carol DeFeciani on 2012 03 21

what ever happened to buck'ner? he sounds like the same as this rizzo guy,wow . The same person as charles is talking about ,I believe .

its sad!

Comment #17 by anthony sionni on 2012 03 21

Cowards hide -- for a time, but they can't run.

I take that back. David Cicilline is running, and there is not greater intellectual or physical coward than this dishonorable, incompetent.

As for Go Local Prov's pseudonym policy: It needs to be revisited, despite all the technical and logistical reasons not to do so cited by GLP owners.

Comment #18 by Charles Drago on 2012 03 21

All the time GoLocal spends discussing the financial problems of the City of Providence, they now get to compound them by publicizing what could have otherwise been described as a "harmless error." Instead, GoLocal selfishly and egotisticially sensationalizes the non-event which will no doubt make this a very costly problem for the City. One response could have simply been to return the offending documents and ask for redacted copies...BUT...

In this day and age of struggling to sell ad-space, there is no room altruism or harmless clerical mistakes. Another gold star on the forehead of GoLocal's agenda.

Comment #19 by David Allen on 2012 03 21

It doesn't matter if the city only gave the information to GoLocal. The point is they released ssn's when they shouldn't have and retirees should be made aware of this.

Who's to say Dan McGowan won't sell off all that information? Who's to say that it wouldn't have happened again if the city kept it quiet? Lots of questions here.

Comment #20 by Bobby Richardson on 2012 03 21

Bobby, agreed to the extent that retirees should be made aware. There is certainly a process to do that whcih doesn't involve GoLocal setting the fire, calling the fire department and then adding accelerant. The City informing its paticipants and GoLocal filing three stories are remarkably different...

Comment #21 by David Allen on 2012 03 21

Attention Go Local Prov readers:

When you peruse this post above --

9:17am on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

charles I think I know who you are talking about, wow!

-- you won't have a clue what I'm talking about. That's because Go Local Prov editors removed my previous post in which I both pointed a finger at the real identity of the intellectual and physical coward possibly posting under such pseudonyms as "louis rizzo," "bukNer," and "louisPrima" -- among others, and argued that the owners of Go Local Prov should seriously revisit their acceptance of pseudonymous posts.

Of course I'll refrain from once again offering my informed speculation as to the Cowardly Lyin's identify insofar as Go Local Prov would simply remove it.

But the facts won't go away.

I am one of the posters who, while writing over my own name, is attacked viciously and in the most cowardly of manners by individuals hiding behind pseudonyms -- including the STRUTTING yellow-belly herein referenced.

I resent it, but I accept it as a fact of life on these otherwise laudable and valuable cyber pages.

Comment #22 by Charles Drago on 2012 03 21

Does anyone doubt that there are unqualified individuals working in our city and state government because of who they know? The city of Providence has been controlled by DEMOCRATS forever and the wheel of political patronage has gone full circle. When you have just one party having complete control this is what you get. No checks and balances anywhere. Providence is now filled with fraud and cronyism! Providence Housing, PROCAP, Providence Economic Developement, etc. Providence on the verge of bankruptcy! All done by DEMOCRATS and their absolute control of Providence and our Statehouse. They all need to go!

Comment #23 by guy smily on 2012 03 22

is ALLEN P. HERE????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Comment #24 by Helen Kraus on 2012 04 18

You only think PHA is full of fraud, because you believe everything you read,smily.

Comment #25 by Helen Kraus on 2012 04 18

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.