This is pretty amusing. It turns out that Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who blew the whistle on the privacy-violating aspects of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Web site, DevalPatrick.com, is engaging in some dubious practices of his own.
According to a story by Ken Maguire of the Associated Press, the Corporations Division of Galvin’s office contains all sorts of personal information about people, including, in some cases, Social Security numbers, purchase records and even images of personal checks. The purpose, Galvin says, is to make it easier for lenders to vet would-be borrowers. But anyone can log on.
Galvin offers Maguire two responses:
1. Everyone’s doing it. “We’re not taking down the site. This is standard practice in the business world. It’s necessary for commerce. There are people who are reliant upon this system.”
2. This is an official government function, unlike Patrick’s campaign site. “The governor’s site is a political committee. Our site is a governmental function. This is an essential part of commerce.”
Naturally, David Kravitz, co-editor of the pro-Patrick site Blue Mass Group, calls Galvin’s excuses “lame” and “crap.”
Well, no. In fact, there are all kinds of government functions that invade our privacy. I do think the fact that it was Patrick’s political committee (complete with a “Contribute” button) that was violating our privacy made it uniquely offensive. There may be no practical difference, but there’s a huge difference symbolically and philosophically. (On the other hand, the Patrick folks fixed their mistake almost immediately; Galvin says he ain’t doin’ nuthin’, at least not right away.)
Besides, virtually every resident in the state is in Patrick’s database. By contrast, when I tried searching the Galvintron this morning, entering the names of random people I know, I couldn’t come up with much of anyone. (Kravitz is right about this: You will find information about the governor and his wife.)
Privacy and the government is an enormous issue, and Galvin should commit himself to taking a lot of this stuff offline. There are many records that ought to be public for anyone who needs them, but not simply thrown up onto the Internet for everyone to see.
Galvin is right that what he’s doing isn’t as egregious as what the Patrick campaign did. But he’s wrong in taking such a dismissive attitude toward the whole thing.