By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Bill Galvin’s other foot

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,, 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.

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  1. Anonymous

    EB3 here,Dan, this Galvin screw up is like giving blood to vampires. In the minds of the monnbats it justifies everything Deval does is right and everyone against anything he does is wrong.

  2. sco

    Dan, the scope of the Deval blunder might have been larger, but I disagree that it was more egregious. This is like one-stop-shopping for identity thieves — Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, etc. Patrick’s site was just names, addresses and phone numbers, which you can get out of the phone book in most cases (yes, with important exceptions). With Galvin’s site, you get enough to open up lines of credit in someone else’s name.

  3. Anonymous

    I think your comment might be a little unfair to Galvin.I think he also pointed out that Social Security Numbers are only on a small portion of the filings. And the state plans to use a software program to eliminate them. (I actually plugged in a bunch of names and didn’t see any Social Security Numbers, so I think his comment is accurate.)Coincidentally, California recently shut down its UCC web site temporarily while it figures out how to remove Social Security numbers from the documents.

  4. Peter Porcupine

    There’s a whole ‘little bit pregnant’ ring to the assertion that SS numbers are on a small portion of the site.Galvin was right about Deval’s site, and needs to remove the beam from his own eye as well.

  5. Anonymous

    I would have to respectfully disagree. Deval’s site is political in nature, but I would be more concerned over my social security number popping up than I would my address. I am more concerned over my credit score being ruined than I am whatever philosophical problems one might have with a site.Oh, and don’t forget everything Deval Patrick does is right and everyone against anything he does is wrong. So he has that going for him.

  6. Lynne

    Everyone seems to conveniently forget that Patrick’s IT team changed the site code within 24 hours of the complaint. It was probably more of an oversight, and for the most part, yeah, all that info is available publicly anyway. And even unlisted #s are in the different types of databases (including voter reg, AND voter history) you can pretty easily get from the state.Galvin’s employees are more diligent about protecting info than Galvin seems to be. I know the whole SS#/online access thing came up with the Registrar of Deeds folks, and they put priority on it. Frankly, the data on the state site with the SS#s, no matter how few, should be pulled OFFline until it’s fixed. That’s a very serious breech, and Galvin’s apparently taking a very lackadaisical view of it. Unlike Patrick, whose people immediately responded and fixed the problem, which yes, was a problem. (Though with said caveats.)Say what you will, but Galvin looks like a total fool now.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Everyone seems to conveniently forget that Patrick’s IT team changed the site code within 24 hours of the complaint.Not those who actually read the very post that you’re responding to, Lynne.Hope I see you tomorrow!

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