AUSTIN, TX — The Texas Comptroller’s office is sending letters beginning Wednesday, April 13, to notify a large number of Texans whose personal information was inadvertently disclosed on an agency server that was accessible to the public. The records of about three and a half million people were erroneously placed on the server with personally identifying information.
There is no indication the personal information was misused.
“I deeply regret the exposure of the personal information that occurred and am angry that it happened,” Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said. “I want to reassure people that the information was sealed off from any public access immediately after the mistake was discovered and was then moved to a secure location. We take information security very seriously, and this type of exposure will not happen again.”
The records contained the names and mailing addresses of individuals. The records also included Social Security numbers, and to varying degrees also contained other information such as dates of birth or driver’s license numbers – all the numbers were embedded in a chain of numbers and not in separate fields.
The information was in data transferred by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS).
The TRS data transferred in January 2010 had records of 1.2 million education employees and retirees. The TWC data transferred in April 2010 had records of about 2 million individuals in their system. And the ERS data transferred in May 2010 had records of approximately 281,000 state employees and retirees.
The data files transferred by those agencies were not encrypted as required by Texas administrative rules established for agencies. In addition to that, personnel in the Comptroller’s office incorrectly allowed exposure of that data. Several internal procedures were not followed, leading to the information being placed on a server accessible to the public and then being left on the server for a long period of time without being purged as required by internal procedures.
The mistake was discovered the afternoon of March 31, at which time the agency began to seal off public access to the files. The agency has also contacted the Attorney General’s office to conduct an investigation on the data exposure and is working with them.
The information was required to be transferred per statute by these agencies and used internally at the Comptroller’s office as part of the unclaimed property verification system.
The Comptroller views the protection of personal information as a serious issue. She will be working with the Legislature to advance legislation to enhance information security as outlined in the Protecting Texans’ Identities report she released in December. This would include the designation of Chief Privacy Officers at each agency as well as the creation of an Information Security Council in the state.
The agency has set up an informational website for individuals at www.TXsafeguard.org to provide additional details and recommended steps and resources for protecting identity information.
And beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, April 12, a special toll-free phone line at (855) 474-2065 will also be available for individuals to call.
People will be able to check if they are receiving a notification letter by calling that toll-free phone line. The toll free line will be open 24-hours a day for the first week.