social security numbers

What privacy? Obamacare employee accidentally emails 2,400 social security numbers to an insurance broker

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Obamacare employee, accidental email, social security numbers

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(NaturalNews) Serial violations of Americans' Fourth Amendment protections under the Bill of Rights are occurring so frequently these days, you'd think it was part of the hiring process for the federal government: If you can't invade everyone's privacy with impunity, you can't work for Uncle Sam. This is especially true when it comes to Obamacare, as demonstrated by a "mistake" made this past week regarding the "accidental" disclosure of thousands of Social Security numbers.

According to the Minnesota Star-Tribune newspaper:

A MNsure employee accidentally sent an e-mail file to an Apple Valley insurance broker's office on Thursday that contained Social Security numbers, names, business addresses and other identifying information on more than 2,400 insurance agents.

An official at MNsure, the state's new online health insurance exchange, acknowledged it had mishandled private data. A MNsure security manager called the broker, Jim Koester, and walked him and his assistant through a process of deleting the file from their computer hard drives.

The systems are ripe for privacy violations and data mining

Koester told the paper that he complied, of course, but that the incident left him understandably concerned.

"The more I thought about it, the more troubled I was," he said. "What if this had fallen into the wrong hands? It's scary. If this is happening now, how can clients of MNsure be confident their data is safe?"

In a word, they can't.

MNsure officials quickly brushed over the incident, saying that it was resolved and that it was the first security breach of its database. Nevertheless, the paper correctly noted that the incident stokes concerns among critics who have regularly pushed the state for years over privacy concerns that have arisen from the creation of online-based health insurance exchanges.

Such marketplaces are a key element of Obamacare. Millions of Americans are being pushed into the exchanges, which are supposed to be up and running - properly - by October 1.

Per the Star-Tribune:

Users of the exchange will need to provide sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, that will be sent to a federal hub to verify such things as citizenship and household income. This information will determine whether consumers using MNsure qualify for public health programs or tax credits that will lower the cost of premiums.

That federal hub is concerning privacy advocates as well, especially since there is less than three weeks until these exchanges go "live" and they have yet to be tested thoroughly, to guard against just such "accidents" as disclosure of personal data.

But even if state-level exchanges and the federal hub remain secure from outside hacking - which is dubious, at best - all of the personal data that is passing through the hub is no doubt going to be data-mined by countless federal agencies and bureaus, to be used later in negative ways that are as yet unknown or undisclosed.

'The gorilla in the room...'

"The people who believe in this are so driven that there's a subcontext of 'Just let us do our job and get as many people signed up as possible, and we'll pick up the debris later,'" Steve Parente, a University of Minnesota finance professor who specializes in health IT issues, told the paper.

He testified recently on Capitol Hill that caution should be utilized in pushing the federal hub online before it's ready.

Working with digital data "is a convenient and simple convention to move things along," Parente said. "But the downside is that it can have unintended consequences. It takes time to parse and curate and edit. You can't do that if you're in a rush."

Koester sees the trouble clearly.

"[T]he gorilla in the room is that they sent me something that's not even encrypted. It's unsecured, on an Excel spreadsheet - which is using outdated technology to transfer that information in the first place. They've got to realize they have a huge problem," he said.


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