The office of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) posted forms online containing the last four digits of thousands of state employees and they were easily accessible to members of the public, Gizmodo reported on Thursday.
Kansas law requires candidates, lawmakers and state employees to submit a statement of substantial interest form to Kobach’s office, which includes information about assets and business interests. The form contains an optional field for people to disclose the last four digits of their Social Security numbers in order to avoid confusion with other state employees. Gizmodo reviewed the forms for 165 people in order to get a sense of the thousands of forms posted online and found the vast majority contained a Social Security number. Anyone could make a username and login to access to site, Gizmodo reported, but it was also possible to search the site without those credentials.
State law requires Kobach’s office to make the forms available to the public, but Kobach’s office had gone a step further and posted the forms for thousands of officials, including himself, online. After Thursday’s Gizmodo report, Kobach’s office removed the forms from the state website, but said they would continue to make them available to people who requested them in person.
The easy accessibility of the partial Social Security numbers is notable because Kobach has come under fire for his handling of sensitive personal information. As the vice chairman of the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Kobach requested information on voters from all 50 states, including, if publicly available, the last four digits of their Social Security number. Several states refused to comply with the request ― some said they couldn’t by law ― and several groups sued the commission, alleging it wasn’t taking adequate steps to protect the privacy of Americans. Security experts warned that an attempt to create a single database containing voter information on millions of Americans was creating a “treasure trove” for hackers.
Kobach also runs Interstate Crosscheck, a system more than two dozen states use to verify people who may be on voting rolls in more than one place. Gizmodo has discovered security holes in the program and Florida recently accidentally provided the last four digits of Social Security numbers of 945 Kansas voters as part of a public records request into Crosscheck.
Samantha Poetter, a Kobach spokeswoman, said in a statement that Kobach was required to disclose the information in the statements of substantial interest to the public.
“The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has the authority over what information is requested and what is made public. The Kansas Secretary of State’s office is required by statute to make the information requested by the Ethic’s [sic] Commission publicly available,” she said in the statement. “Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach does not believe that the last four of a person’s social security number should be part of this publicly available information. However currently Kansas law requires the entire SSI (sic) to be released. Secretary Kobach has taken all statements off of the office website. The statements are still available for someone to request in person pursuant to Kansas statute.”
Mark Skoglund, the executive director of the Kansas Ethics Commission, said the panel would discuss changes to the form on Wednesday in response to the Gizmodo story and whether the partial social security numbers could be redacted. The commission’s “informal interpretation” was that the social security numbers could be blocked out.
Asked whether Kobach’s office had approached the commission about privacy concerns before, Skoglund noted he had only been in his role since September but said Thursday was the first time he had heard about it.