Privacy Press Release

11.20.08

Inspector General’s Findings on ‘Joe the Plumber’ Case Show State Needs Immediate Reform

ACLU Calls on Governor to Mandate Changes Now

CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio pointed to findings released today by Ohio’s inspector general as evidence that Governor Ted Strickland must take immediate action to mandate state agencies implement privacy protections. The inspector general found that Ohio Department of Job & Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelly had no reason to search the records of Joseph Wurzelbacher, also known as “Joe the Plumber. Ms. Jones Kelly also stated that such searches of those in news headlines were common protocol for the office. News reports indicated that nearly a half dozen other state agencies conducted searches on Mr. Wurzelbacher’s information without due cause.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Governor Strickland must not delay in taking immediate action to guarantee there will be no further violation of Ohioans’ privacy. He must mandate that every department head in the state have a privacy protection plan that they implement and are accountable for. The Ohio General Assembly should then pass legislation creating permanent statutory safeguards. While the plight of Mr. Wurzelbacher may have placed the spotlight on this troubling issue, we must remember that millions of other Ohioans’ information is still at the mercy of political whims and curiosity and must be secured now.”

“Further delays in implementing safeguards pose a serious threat to Ohioans’ privacy rights. The time for studies of the system are over—Governor Strickland must take action now, followed the Ohio General Assembly passing strengthened privacy laws,” added Link.

The ACLU of Ohio first spoke out about the invasion of Mr. Wurzelbacher’s privacy after it was revealed Helen Jones-Kelly, director of Ohio’s Department of Job & Family Services, authorized a check of his information in state databases without any legitimate reason to do so. She stated to the press that it was common practice for employees to check the information of any person who is in a news headline, such as lottery winners. Ms. Jones-Kelly has since been placed on administrative leave on an unrelated matter.

“Officials have consistently shown they have few safeguards for privacy after countless stories of state agencies losing discs full of data, posting private information on public websites and now checking random innocent peoples’ information. In an age where so much of our private information is vulnerable to identity theft with just a few strokes of a keyboard, Governor Strickland must act immediately to ensure this type of violation does not occur again,” Link concluded.