TX Attorney General Greg Abbott Exposed Millions of Texans' Social Security Numbers

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TL;DR: In the midst of Voter ID court proceedings, criminally clumsy Attorney General Greg Abbott released voter registration data that contained full social security numbers of over 13 million Texans. Lawyers working against the Voter ID bill saved millions of Texans' identities by bringing the release to the attention of the state.

The Lone Star Project broke the news this afternoon:

Abbott Exposes Millions of Texans' Social Security Numbers



AG releases file containing over 13 million Texas SS numbers.

Misuse avoided only by vigilance of opposing counsel.

A legal brief filed by opponents of the Texas Voter Photo ID law reveals that Attorney General Greg Abbott exposed millions of Texas voters' full Social Security numbers to possible theft and abuse.

The brief, filed Monday, April 23, 2012 states:

“… after vigorously fighting the production of data containing full Social Security numbers, Texas mistakenly produced to Intervenors data from the VR [voter registration]data base that contained full Social Security numbers.” (Defendant-Intervenors' Motion for Clarification of the Trial Schedule, 4/23/12, page seven.)

Texas voters escaped public release of their Social Security numbers only because of the vigilance of conscientious lawyers working against the Voter Photo ID bill. Rather than attach the files to documents circulated to other attorneys or expose them to access by the general public, opposing counsel immediately notified the AG's office of the bungled release of private data. Abbott then, at the expense of Texas taxpayers, sent a courier to both New York and Washington, DC to retrieve the files. As the brief details:

“Intervenors immediately notified the State and, at the State's request, Intervenors ceased all review of the VR data that had been provided, with the State sending a representative from Texas to collect the VR data disks personally.” (Defendant-Intervenors' Motion for Clarification of the Trial Schedule, 4/23/12, page seven.)

Abbott's negligence constitutes one of the largest risks of public identity theft in recent memory. Last year, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs received bitter criticism for releasing the Social Security numbers of 3.5 million Texans.  In this most recent case, had the files not been handled carefully and responsibly by legal counsel opposing Abbott, as many as 13 million Texas voters' Social Security numbers could have been exposed to potential illegal misuse and identity theft.

Background

For years, Greg Abbott has taken the lead among Texas Republicans in efforts to use discriminatory legislation and State law enforcement to harassment minority voters and suppress voter participation by minority citizens. The Lone Star Project has detailed Abbott's past vote suppression, and the LSP reports can be viewed here, here, here, and here.

Currently a bitter legal battle is underway in Washington, DC over the controversial Voter Photo ID law passed by Texas Republican leaders last year. The US Department of Justice has determined that the Texas Voter Photo ID law intentionally discriminates against minority voters in violation of the US Voting Rights Act. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is attempting to by-pass DOJ by gaining approval of the law by a three-judge Federal Court in Washington, DC.

Who is Fighting Greg Abbott?

Texas citizens led by State Representative Marc Veasey (HD95 – Fort Worth) have intervened in the case and have joined with the Department of Justice arguing that the Texas Voter Photo ID bill violates the US Voting Rights Act. They have joined with others to formally oppose Abbott's efforts to gain approval of the discriminatory law.

About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental political challenge of our time because it affects every other issue in American politics. He is currently on leave for the election season.

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