Did you hear the one about the Kentucky GOP candidate who asked his attorney general to investigate the state Democratic Party for allegedly sending out his Social Security number to thousands of constituents? Sorry to say, there's no punch line here, because according to recent reports, it actually happened.
Introducing Jeff Jobe. He's running against one Johnny Bell, the incumbent Democrat representative of District 23 in Kentucky's House of Representatives. It's a local race with a mean streak in which a fair amount of time and money has been spent trying to shrug off and memorialize Jobe's DUI arrest in 2008. Last week, according to a story in the Park City Daily News, the state Democratic Party jumped the shark, allegedly releasing Jobe's Glasgow Police Department arrest citation that included the GOP candidate's Social Security number, driver's license number, date of birth, home address -- even his cellphone number.
If true, with that crucial error in judgment, a character issue for a low-stakes race became a national issue. The Republican Party of Kentucky called on Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate. Jobe also informed the Federal Trade Commission and major credit reporting agencies -- the latter being an essential first step in protecting himself against identity theft. The mailer in question states that it was paid for by the Kentucky Democratic Party.
The Kentucky Democratic Party's response beggars the imagination. "The Republican Party should be ashamed for defending Jobe, who has been caught drunk driving repeatedly," said the party's Chairman Daniel Logsdon. "As for releasing public information about his arrests, we believe the voters of the 23rd District deserve to know the truth about Jeff Jobe."
Chairman Logsdon is right about the fact that voters deserve to know the truth, but no one has the right to expose anyone's personally identifiable information to the world. It would have been incredibly simple to redact the personal information from the document before sending out the mailer. Perhaps it never occurred to them. That would be telling -- and not in a good way.
Failing to take responsibility for the error is also problematic, for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, any organization that's unwilling to admit when it has made a mistake and behave with some degree of contrition comes off as immature and just plain sketchy. Beyond that, the failure to take responsibility for the error has allowed Jobe to control the narrative. Instead of talking about his drunk driving arrests, which may indeed be material to his candidacy, people are talking about this boneheaded move.
"I understand the nature of politics and that my record is fair game," Jobe said in a news release reported in the Park City Daily News. "But for the State Democratic Party to mail my personal information, particularly my Social Security number, to thousands of individuals is downright criminal."
Jobe could very well be right. While 47 states have breach notification laws on the books, every state has different laws about what constitutes identity theft. Most laws have wording to the effect that personally identifiable information has to have been used to impersonate a third party in the commission of a crime.
By sending out his most sensitive personally identifiable information, the Kentucky Democrats have arguably become, at the very least, a player in whatever identity-related crime might be committed against Jobe in the future. It's shocking that they didn't consider the possibility that someone out there might well use the information to impersonate Jobe, and as such it seems reasonable that a court may at least consider the notion that they have some culpability for any crimes that occur because of that mailer.
Local political races make great copy, and this story is no exception. But it also raises some important questions. In general, the U.S. lacks strong data security laws at the federal level. The president even made mention of this in a speech a little over a week ago. There have been plenty of legislative attempts to deal with cybercrime, data security and breach notification at the federal level that range from the relatively light-handed (Feinstein) to the exponentially tougher (Blumenthal). Some have failed because a number of existing state laws are quite strong, and data security advocates (in particular, the attorneys general of those states) do not want to see those protections eroded. But if the Kentucky gaffe is any indication, not every legislator or political party understands the full scope of just how important data security is.
The fact that we have yet to see strong state and federal laws across the board on data security is writ large in the Kentucky Democratic Party's buffoonery. I can't think of a more powerful anecdote to illustrate this point.