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Guards Sue California DOC for Identity Theft by Prisoner Workers

Thirty-one guards from Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), California?s supermax lockup, filed suit on May 23, 2006 in Sacramento Superior Court against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation following the discovery that PBSP prisoners had obtained guards? names, Social Security numbers (SSNs), work attendance data and home addresses. Two guards had already suffered identity theft; one discovered fraudulent charges on her MasterCard that included an Internet search for her husband, also a prison guard.

The first security breach was discovered on February 9, 2006. A prisoner sentenced for fraud told guards he had been approached by another prisoner working in the warehouse seeking advice on how to defraud prison staff. The resulting lockdown and workplace search turned up guards? personal information. An investigation revealed how some prisoners moved documents from an unlocked area in the warehouse; other prisoners accessed boxes of guards? private data in the gym, where the boxes were stored on unsecured shelves next to a weight bench.

Sensitive forms were also found stuffed in punching bags ? one bag even made it to a prisoner?s cell. Another breach occurred on April 6, 2006 when a prisoner warehouse worker was discovered with an employee?s medical record and SSN.

The theft of California prison guards? personal information by prisoners was cited in an August 2006 audit released by the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, titled ?Prisoners? Access to Social Security Numbers.? See April, 2007 PLN for more details. According to that report, 13 states allow prisoners access to SSNs through work programs, including data processing, document scanning, and records conversion for state agencies.

The PBSP-related lawsuit, filed by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), seeks new policies, investigation of all data breaches and help for affected employees to protect their credit.
CCPOA officials also claimed that prisoners were able to access prison blueprints stored in the warehouse, and stated that prisoners being allowed to work in areas where they had access to sensitive personal information was a violation of state law. The law was implemented following a similar case of identify theft ten years ago at the Wasco State Prison.

?It?s amazing,? said Christopher Miller, a lawyer representing the CCPOA. ?At the very least, the events suggest a reckless disregard? by prison officials for not securing the guards? personal data. Which is ironic, considering it?s the guards? responsibility to supervise prisoners and prevent such security breaches in the first place. See: California Correctional Peace Officers Association v. CDCR, Sacramento Superior Court, Case No. 06-CS-00747.

Additional Sources: CBS news, Sacramento Bee, SSA Office of the Inspector General report

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Related legal case

California Correctional Peace Officers Association v. CDCR