Will Texas Really Not Share Our SSN?
A day after celebrating the freedoms enshrined in our founding documents, I’m concerned about a potential threat to the privacy and security of every registered voter in Texas. Could the Texas Legislature be poised to grant hackers the biggest gift imaginable in the upcoming special session?
With the request from Kris Kobach’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for every state to turn over their voter file, numerous stories have described Texas as one of the states partially complying. Texas law allows the Secretary of State to release the state’s voter registration database, but it forbids including the last four digits of each voter’s Social Security Number (SSN).
I, like many Texans, experienced mixed emotions hearing this. On one hand, I am concerned about the privacy implications of publishing the voter file information of every voter in the country in one large publicly available national database. Remember this is the same information Russian hackers were trying to break into state databases to access. Why not do them the favor of collecting and publishing it ourselves? On the other hand, I breathed a sigh of relief hearing that state law forbids sharing the last four of our SSN’s.
To fully grasp the risk here, imagine what could happen. The letter from Kobach’s commission requesting the files makes clear that…
Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public
Would you want to hand hackers a file of millions of Texas voters including their full name, address, date of birth, household members, and voting history combined with the last 4 of each voter’s SSN? What percent of Texas voters do you think use the last 4 of their SSN as a PIN for phones, debit cards, etc? Who would want to hand such a gold mine of information to an identity thief?
Well, it turns out the answer to that question is none other than my Texas House Representative from District 89, Jodie Laubenberg. As the chair of the Elections Committee, she introduced HB3422 and passed it out of her committee. Fortunately, she wasn’t quite effective enough to get it passed through the full House.
So, what was HB3422 anyhow? Often times bills can be pretty dense and lengthy with lots of legal definitions and protections. HB3422 is not one of those bills. It is a simple amendment that adds the following to our state law:
… the secretary of state may disclose voter information, including a voter’s date of birth and the last four digits of a voter’s social security number
If my representative had been effective enough to actually pass this through the House, the last 4 digits of millions of Texas voter’s SSN would have been published to the world along with their name, address, birthdate, etc. The only thing stopping it now is that state law prevents it. Our Secretary of State has proven a willingness to turn over all legally allowed information and there’s no reason to believe that wouldn’t include SSN if allowed.
What struck me about HB3422 is how simple the wording is. There are no constraints on the release other than the Secretary of State deciding to do it. No one is required to be notified of the release of this data. No restrictions are placed on how this data is secured. Compare this to a bill filed in Minnessota around the same time that adds numerous restrictions to the release of data including the security of the data.
Could HB3422 Be Resurrected in Special Session?
The Texas House will reconvene for a special session starting on July 18. Given the new request from Kobach’s commission and that Jodie Laubenberg still chairs the Elections Committee, I’d say every Texan needs to keep an eye on the Elections Committee’s agenda in the special session.
Despite the public outcry over the release of voter information, let’s remember the reason driving this release: President Trump’s baseless claim of up to 5 million illegal votes in the 2016 election. The financial and personal security of every Texas family is at risk because of a partisan attempt to cover up for a lying President. I for one have little faith that the worst legislature in Texas history is capable of rising above playing silly partisan games to do what’s right for the average Texan.