Educators' Social Security numbers sent via e-mail

March 30, 2006

By Linda Conner Lambeck

The Social Security numbers of the 1,250 teachers and school administrators in the Connecticut Technical High School System were mistakenly sent via e-mail to staff, triggering an investigation by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal said Wednesday that he is appalled and astonished by the apparent "senseless" security breach.

He promised an immediate investigation into the incident, which occurred Monday, and warned the state Department of Education to notify all affected employees immediately.

Blumenthal was alerted to the situation by the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, the union that represents the system's staff.

Union President Aaron Silvia called the accidental release of the numbers "shocking."

Identity thieves can use Social Security numbers to create false identities to secure lines of credit in other people's names. Silva said he wants steps taken to protect his members and safeguards developed so it won't happen again.

Thomas Murphy, a spokesman for the vocational schools system, said the disclosure of the numbers was a mistake. He said the Social Security numbers didn't fall into the hands of the general public.

"It was professional staff at one school, as far as we can tell," he said. "We have asked the teachers to delete the information. We trust them to do the right thing. We don't believe there will be any breach of security to the general public or private interests whatsoever."

The e-mail was sent to the system's 17 principals by Patricia Ciccone, a professional development director for the system, to inform them about a coming workshop.

The file with the Social Security numbers was attached to the e-mail by mistake, Murphy said.

At least one principal, Sheila Fredson of Vinal Technical School in Middletown, then forwarded the e-mail to 77 staff members without opening the attachment containing the Social Security numbers.

"As soon as we knew, we immediately wrote to all principals and asked them to delete the file. We then sent out a corrected e-mail," Murphy said. Some principals, he said, hadn't even opened the first e-mail.

Murphy said the department has no problem complying with Blumenthal's directive that all affected employees be notified of the breach. He would not say whether Ciccone would face any consequences as a result of the error. "I know she was very apologetic," he said. "It's like a nightmare for her."

Ciccone could not be reached for comment . neither could the principals of Bullard Havens in Bridgeport, Platt Tech in Milford or O'Brien Tech in Ansonia.

The professional development office keeps Social Security numbers because they are used for identification when teachers take workshops and courses for credit.

Blumenthal said state employees concerned about misuse of their Social Security numbers should consider taking precautions such as placing a freeze on their credit reports and closely monitoring credit card bills and other financial obligations.

"Any wrongful use of this personal private information will be pursued aggressively," he said.

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