County day care data mistakenly posted on Web

County day care data mistakenly posted on Web

A database project last week turned into a privacy nightmare for Livingston County, N.Y.

Personal records from the county's day care center database'containing hundreds of names, addresses and confidential information about low-income and foster families'was available online for several weeks.

The database contains details about families' daily routines, such as birthdays and which days a family member attends a treatment program. It was posted in error to a Web site by a programmer who worked on a contract for the county's Social Services Department.

The programmer posted the data to www.rentacoder.com seeking technical help with some programming skills that he lacked, said David Morris, Livingston County attorney.

The programmer's request for help was viewed by visitors to the site 214 times. Visitors would have to unzip the attached database to view the day care center information.

The database stayed on the site from Jan. 22 until Feb. 5, a few hours after a reporter from MSNBC.com of Redmond, Wash., found the data and alerted Livingston County commissioner Sandy Wright. The data was removed from the site a couple of hours later, Morris said.

The county has a contract with local Genesee Community College in Batavia, N.Y., to work on the database for the county's day care center. The programmer worked for the college as a full-time computer consultant.

The programmer is no longer providing services for the county, Morris said. Genesee Community College suspended him without pay.

The county is sending out letters to all the families involved, notifying them that some of their confidential information was on the Internet, Morris said. The Social Services Department is also fielding phone calls from the families to handle any problems that might arise.

The programmer's deed 'was ineptitude more than anything else,' Morris said. 'I'm amazed that someone could not think enough about this. We'll be doing things a little differently as far as outsourcing this type of work again.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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