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    Columbus Dispatch: Ohio apologized to ‘Idol’ star for illegal snooping

    The Columbus Dispatch reports on a case of insiders using their access privileges to view data about an individual, invading her privacy. There have been numerous cases where insiders have been accused of or found to be abusing their access to data. Last year, the Ohio Inspector General released a report (pdf) finding that state employees improperly accessed and distributed confidential state records related to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who gained fame during the election as “Joe the Plumber.” Reporters learned that Wurzelbacher owed back taxes to the state and did not have a plumber’s license.

    Also last year, a New York City police sergeant pleaded guilty “to illegally entering a federal database and giving information from a terrorist watch list to an acquaintance to use in a child-custody case in Canada,” reported the New York Times. And the Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts state auditor has found misuse by law enforcement officials of the criminal records system. Police pried into the personal data of Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, actor Matt Damon, Boston Celtics player Paul Pierce and others.

    The Columbus Dispatch reports on what happened to American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox, who is from Ohio:

    From computers with access to personal information in confidential state databases, employees of five police agencies and a municipal court rummaged through Bowersox’s background. And in Columbus, an Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles clerk examined vehicles registered in the performer’s name, and the home computer of an assistant city prosecutor was used to check on the newly minted star.

    An Ohio Department of Public Safety official apologized in a July 1 letter to Bowersox for the unauthorized breaches of her privacy and wrote that there was no evidence that she had become an identity-theft victim. […]

    The State Highway Patrol detected the searches on Bowersox in late May, after she became an Idol finalist, when a patrol official decided to run an audit for suspicious checks.

    Eight improper checks were found between Feb. 24 and May 27, including by police departments in Millersburg, Pemberville, Xenia and at the Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster, as well as the Putnam County sheriff’s office. Those checks, plus one involving the Columbus city attorney’s office, were conducted through the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, which is administered by the attorney general’s office.

    The law-enforcement employees who misused the system to check on Bowersox received punishments from their employers ranging from a two-week suspension to written reprimands. Such violations can be punished criminally, but that call is left to local officials, said Ted Hart, a spokesman for the attorney general.

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