Wednesday, July 16, 2008 | 2 a.m.
District Court in Clark County inadvertently put tens of thousands of people at risk for identity theft during the past three years.
The court’s computer software allowed prospective jurors’ confidential personal information to be released to a private contractor, court administrators said.
Court officials stumbled onto the security breach a month and a half ago after learning that a woman who worked for the company that prints jury summons letters had sent names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of 380 prospective jurors to her personal e-mail account.
Chuck Short, the court’s retiring chief executive, said that once officials learned of the breach at A&B Printing, they moved quickly to purge the computer software of all confidential data.
“This was a small leak that prompted a broad review of all of our data exchanges,” he said. “It was a real learning experience.”
Court officials said they don’t believe any identity theft has occurred, but they also acknowledged they have no way to be certain.
Authorities fear that some personal information may have gotten into the wrong hands, Short said.
The Metro Police cyber crimes unit, Short said, is trying to determine what the employee of A&B Printing had done or planned to do with the prospective jurors’ personal information.
In this case, police are being even more tight-lipped than usual, but sources said the 380 prospective jurors either did not have return addresses or had moved out of state, leading to speculation among authorities that the employee may have accumulated the personal data in a scheme to help illegal immigrants enter the country.
The identity of the employee was being held, and a spokeswoman for A&B Printing, which was hired in late 2005 by the court to send summonses to prospective jurors, refused to comment.
“We do not comment on matters in the press or matters affecting our customers,” said Linda Cohen, vice president of finance for A&B Printing.
Court officials said they learned about the employee’s actions May 31 but didn’t send out letters warning the prospective jurors about a “potential problem involving identity theft” until June 25.
The letters recommended that the prospective jurors place a fraud alert on their credit files so they would be notified if anyone tried to open a bank account under their name or change an existing account.
Jury Commissioner Judy Rowland said officials came across the problem while asking A&B Printing why some people scheduled to receive a jury summons had not gotten one.
After some checking, she said, the company found the e-mail containing the personal information on the 380 prospective jurors that its employee had sent to herself.
A&B Printing informed court administrators of the breach, prompting officials to move to minimize any potential damage. The company sends out roughly 5,000 jury summonses a month for the court.
“I was mortified,” Rowland said. “You don’t expect anyone to use that kind of information.”
Assistant Court Administrator Ed Friedland added: “We literally dropped everything we were doing to understand the problem and rectify it. We took every precaution we could take.”
On July 3, the court issued a news release reporting the incident and pledging its cooperation in the police investigation.
“We want to make sure that those who breach the people’s rights here are held accountable,” Friedland said.
Court administrators said confidential information on prospective jurors was less likely to be compromised before late 2005 because the printing and mailing of jury summonses remained in-house with the county’s printing shop.
Jeff German is the Sun’s senior investigative reporter.