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Published: Friday, 9/10/2010

Snooping on Mama Sox

Crystal Bowersox has every right to sing the blues about nosy state employees snooping into confidential government databases for dirt on her. If the American Idol runner-up from northwest Ohio can fall victim to such an abuse of public trust, it can happen to any other Ohioan.

No citizen should be subject to prying by employees on the public payroll just because they have access to personal information and idle curiosity to satisfy.

It is an outrage that, as the Columbus Dispatch reports, employees of five police agencies, a municipal court, and a state license bureau took the liberty of conducting background searches on the budding star — because they could.

The breaches of privacy came to light after Ms. Bowersox became an Idol finalist in May. An audit by the Ohio State Highway Patrol discovered eight improper “background checks” had been performed on the singer.

Those fishing expeditions, plus another involving the Columbus city attorney's office, were conducted through the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway by intrusive public authorities that included the Millersburg, Pemberville, and Xenia police departments, the Putnam County sheriff's office, and the Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster.

Employees who misused the system were disciplined or forced to resign. But only one, a Bureau of Motor Vehicles clerk who improperly checked Ms. Bowersox's vehicle registration information, was fired and charged with unauthorized use of property.

The clerk has pleaded not guilty to the fifth-degree felony. He sought to excuse his behavior by telling state officials he never did anything with what he found out about the singer, such as “print it, or commit it to memory for any financial or personal gain.”

That misses the point rather spectacularly. Ms. Bowersox deserved better than an intolerable invasion of privacy.

So do all other Ohioans.

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