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    New York Times: Concern for Vast Social Services Database on the City’s Neediest

    The New York Times reports on a privacy concern about a local government database on the city’s poor residents:

    New York City has spent the past 18 months developing a database on four million residents, most of them the city’s neediest, which officials say will enhance social services but which advocates for the poor say could put their privacy at risk. […] Now, workers in an array of city departments will have access to information about nearly half of the city’s residents, including welfare and food stamp payments, child care vouchers, and records of Medicaid enrollment and stays in public housing and shelters, among other kinds of social service records. […]

    Advocates for the poor say it is true that their clients often fall through the cracks because of the lack of communication between city agencies. But they also worry that the network may perpetuate mistakes, allow city workers to fish for personal information about clients and violate privacy. […]

    In its initial stages, the project, called Worker Connect, which cost $28 million to develop, draws selected data from the Administration for Children’s Services, the child welfare agency; the Department of Homeless Services; the Housing Authority; records of seniors’ rent subsidies from the Department of Finance; and the Human Resources Administration, which administers Medicaid, welfare and food stamps in the city.

    But thousands of workers in nine city agencies will have access to the information, including employees from Family Court, legal services, child protection, the Department for the Aging, corrections, public hospitals and domestic violence prevention. […]

    A typical file would contain a name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, phone number, names of the head of household and other members of the household, income, education level, race, language and type of city benefits or services that are received, like food stamps, housing and Medicaid. It might also include documents like a lease, a pay stub, a driver’s license or a birth certificate that have been previously submitted to a city agency. […]

    The city said it was aware of the perils and had worked to protect sensitive information from reaching the wrong eyes. [Linda Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services,] said that to protect privacy, workers would have different levels of access, confidential health records would be excluded, and “electronic fingerprints” would identify the worker involved in each transaction.

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