GJSentinel.com reports that Mesa County in Western Colorado announced on
December 2, 2010, that thousands of official computer records were mistakenly
made available on the internet from April until November 24.
The records included such information as the names of confidential informants
in drug cases, home addresses and family members’ names and other
personal information of employees of the county sheriff’s office,
emails between sheriff’s office employees about crime victims and
homicide and other investigations, some of which included names, telephone
numbers and addresses of involved persons.
An investigation has revealed that the information was first accessed
from the internet on October 24. It was accessed “numerous”
times after that by personal computers in the U.S. and Europe, and perhaps
across the world. Nobody knows how many times, if at all, the information
was downloaded for storage on a computer.
The sheriff has asked the FBI to assist in determining computer users
who may have downloaded the highly sensitive information.
The person who released the information was working in the Mesa County
Information Technology Department. Apparently, he mistakenly believed
the website where the sheriff’s department information was stored
was password-protected and encrypted. The unnamed person is no longer
employed by the county.
As readers might expect, the potential civil liability of the county is
mind-boggling. Informants’ very lives may be jeopardized. The sheriffs’
employees and their family members are exposed to identity theft and other
criminal activity. This unfortunate event will likely have a long-lasting
effect on every person whose name or other identifying information was released.