Another Big Data Breach Releases Personally Identifiable Voter Information

A little over a month after it became known that the social security numbers, drivers license numbers and dates of birth of more than six million Georgia registered voters were sent to news organizations and political parties in what is known as the Peach Breach, a much bigger database of voter information was discovered in the wild. reported that a database with 191 million records containing voter information was available publicly on the internet. After this report, public access to the database was removed.

While the information in the database didn’t include social security or drivers license numbers like the Peach Breach did, it did include dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and possibly more. Is this significant? Or as was pointed out in a tweet, is it no more than someone accidentally leaking Facebook?

A story in this morning’s New York Times tries to answer that question. In addition to talking about how voter information is aggregated and used by political campaigns, it talks about how the information can be used for less noble purposes:

Big data advocates argue that what is in most voter files is nothing more than the White Pages of a phone book augmented with party affiliation and voting history (not which candidate people voted for, but whether they voted.) But for privacy experts, that alone, especially when compiled in one place, is cause for concern.

“Simply by digitizing the data, collecting it in one place, making it freely available in one place — it’s a Christmas gift for thieves,” said Neal O’Farrell, the executive director of the Identity Theft Council. “I interviewed an identity thief, and he said credit card numbers are for chumps. It’s much easier to get caught. The cybercriminals really want to know who you are. And voter information and any kind of information that fills in all the blanks makes it easier for phishing, for social engineering, and for extortion.”

There is no doubt that this type of data has become essential to modern political campaigns. Democrats and some others use NGP/Van to aggregate voter data and enable voter contact. NationBuilder is a popular tool used by a wide variety of candidates and organizations to build support. And don’t forget that the voter data exposed in the Peach Breach except for personally identifiable information is required by Georgia law to be made available to those willing to pay a fee.

Many people, myself included, are willing to provide personal information to social media sites like Facebook in order to be able to enjoy social media. Plenty of people use a Kroger Plus Card or other shopper card to get discounts at retail while providing a wealth of personally identifiable information about what we purchase and use on a daily basis. And while the benefits can be great, there are also risks, as not only the unauthorized release of voter information but the legally required distribution of voter records shows.


  1. saltycracker says:

    One of the best steps an individual can take is file with the 3 credit agencies to freeze inquiries for new credit.

    But the biggest public concern s/b: the government is unwilling to take the available safeguards against fraud within their systems as a private business would. To quote “an innocent party might be hurt”.

    It is politically expedient to acquire public debt.

  2. Will Durant says:

    I realize that some of the collection of the data considered to be in the public domain is necessary for legal oversight. However, every measure that can be taken to ensure the secrecy of the voting booth and the voters’ personal information should be sacrosanct. While this “breech” doesn’t compare to Kemp’s as a ready reference file to fraudsters it is still evidence that more is being recorded than should be allowed.

    I don’t care if it helps the two major parties or not, they should not be recording party affiliation or in Georgia’s case whose primary ballot is pulled on an individual basis. Age should be good enough for ID purposes, not the full date of birth. Since the last four digits of the SSN is all that is required of those registering to vote in Georgia today, the first five digits for those who registered in the past should be purged from the database. There should be full disclosure when you register to vote that your information is being kept outside of the Secretary of State’s office with a private out-of-state company who also outsources their database management outside of the US. There should also be full disclosure that your personal information will be handed over to other state agencies like the DOR who then in turn gives it to private collection agencies.

    Lastly, if the SoS and the Governor want to continue with the line that our personal information was not disseminated outside of 12 recipients then they need to put up or shut up. All that has been put forward to the voters to date is a one-sided blame assignment report on the cause of the breech and not one whit of evidence backing the SoS and Governor’s assurances that the data didn’t make it beyond those initial recipients. While these statements will certainly diminish how many sign up for credit monitoring by the February deadline and save taxpayer money it borders on criminal if we later find out these statements were not factual. We have already seen evidence in this forum from Mr. Wagar that the statement that all of the discs have been “recovered or destroyed” is not true as discarded is not the same as destroyed. We can only hope he doesn’t recycle and it went in with some soiled diapers. To be clear I don’t hold it against him or any of the other 11 recipients if the data did get out because to their knowledge for more than a month this file only contained public domain information.

    • Will Durant says:

      Oh, and Jon, not only does Kroger not have my real name they might wonder why a teenager who lives in Beverly Hills, CA 90210 buys his groceries in Georgia. Registering to vote isn’t even comparable.

      • MattMD says:

        Only they wonder why Paul McCartney has a, uh, second, I mean, thousandth home in Cobb County.

        Not even East Cobb at that!

    • Have to take issue with the partisan data – when you vote and in which election is a public record. Parties and well financed candidates and groups would acquire this data (or a proxy) anyway. It would be less perfect and it would also give even more of an advantage to the incumbent players (on both sides).

      I just speak from personal experience, but my story (or something similar) is more common than you would think – only around 1,200 people out of ~15k registered voted in the primary when I ran against a convicted felon in 2008 for a House seat. Said felon even had an active sworn warrant out for their arrest. Using past voter data, I was able to communicate to about 70% of the people who actually showed up to vote, even though I only communicated with about 20% of the voters total and in some cases much less (like phone calls I made myself and with friends).

      My vote percentage was pretty close to the # of people who voted who had heard my message (about myself and my opponent). Without past voter data, communication from candidates wouldn’t be as effective. If you think that isn’t important, I hope you don’t live in a district where someone who has a criminal background and a last name that starts with A wants to run.

Comments are closed.