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Leaked SSNs From Gov. Bush Emails & Cyber Summits Signs of Changing Times

The business transactions and communications of ordinary citizens took center stage last week as a former governor was embroiled in an email dump that resulted in leaked personal information of constituents contained in correspondences, while the sitting President talked cybersecurity and consumerism at an unrelated summit.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in an attempt to make his time in office more transparent, requested his email correspondence with his fellow Floridians be made public, although some of the emails contained personal information about those writing to the Governor. Meanwhile, the President made remarks at the Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University, targeted at combating digital malfeasance.

Both instances highlight growing concerns over balancing privacy, transparency, security and consumer protection. They also indicate the way business and communication is conducted is rapidly heading toward the digitization and proliferation of information, for better or worse.

The summit was set “to help shape public and private sector efforts to protect American consumers and companies from growing threats to consumers and commercial networks,” according to information from the executive branch. “The Summit [brought] together major stakeholders on consumer financial protection issues to discuss how all members of our financial system can work together to further protect American consumers and their financial data, now and in the future.”

In Florida, it wasn’t business transactions that were allegedly mishandled, but instead a broad swath of policy items mixed with all sorts of other communiques directed to Bush. Jim McGuire, a partner at Florida-based Thomas & LoCicero PL who specializes in media law said: “I can’t recall anything like this,” with respect to the released emails.

He said Florida has a relatively broad public information law, although it has gotten whittled down periodically with additional restrictions on information put into place. Personal information, like Social Security numbers, is exempt from disclosure under these circumstances and was not likely meant to be included in the attempt at improving governmental accountability.

The Bush camp claims that the state record holders are at fault and while that may be technically true, the information that leaked was ultimately a result of Bush’s prompting the disclosure of his email correspondences, McGuire said.

McGuire added it’s ironic that although Bush was likely trying to “show he’s somewhat of a tech-savvy politician,” his request ultimately led to a breach of privacy.

He said if someone were to wrongfully use those Social Security numbers for monetary gain it would actually be quite difficult to sue Florida to recover damages. “There isn’t really teeth in the public records act,” he said, noting there are only minor criminal penalties for violating the rules of the law.

“I would never say that couldn’t happen,” he said, as some lawyers can be fairly creative when it comes to recovering money, but Florida enjoys “sovereign immunity” and there is a $100,000 cap on tort awards from the state, even if the damages were substantially more than that sum. The Florida Legislature would need to pass a law, he said, in order to specifically address a particular claim against the state for someone to recover their full loses.

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