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Published: 11/14/2006

Bowling Green police mistakenly put private data online

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Bowling Green police want the public to know more about what their officers do every day. This month, though, that effort got them into trouble.

Lt. Tony Hetrick said yesterday that a dispatcher had inadvertently posted a lengthy report on www.bowlinggreenpolice.org in place of the usual daily blotter for Oct. 21. The report included Social Security numbers, phone numbers, and other information that's normally confidential.

"It was a human error. It certainly wasn't deliberate," Chief Gary Spencer said. "We're sorry it happened, and we've taken steps to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Lieutenant Hetrick said the report, which also contained officers' narrative accounts of each incident handled that day, remained online until Nov. 3, when a Bowling Green woman called to find out why her private information was on the Web site. The woman, who had been stopped by police and warned for failing to display a front license plate on her vehicle, was shocked to learn that her Social Security number and phone number were posted along with her name, address, and birthdate.

"It was an error," Lieutenant Hetrick said. "It should not have been on there."

He said a Montana woman had brought the matter to the local woman's attention. She had entered the Bowling Green woman's name into the search engine Google before contacting her about some animals the woman had for sale. Google linked her to the Bowling Green police blotter.

Lieutenant Hetrick said police immediately removed the report from their Web site and contacted Google to have the report stored on the search engine's servers removed as well.

He said the police dispatcher who made the mistake was counseled, and all dispatchers who typically upload the blotter to the Web site were instructed in the proper procedures.

While the problem may have passed without much notice, it was recounted last week on a blog hosted by MSNBC.com.

A report on "The Red Tape Chronicles," a blog promoted as "MSNBC.com's effort to unmask government bureaucracy, corporate sneakiness, and outright scam artists," prompted a flurry of responses from readers, some who felt the error was a mistake and others who blasted the government for failing to keep private information private.

Chief Spencer said he planned to keep the daily blotter on the police division Web site as a public service.

It does not include Social Security and phone numbers, but it does routinely contain drivers' and complainants' names, addresses, genders, and dates of birth. That information is included in police reports, which by law are public records.

"We're trying to be a good public servant. We're trying to be transparent," the chief said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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