Your name, social security number, driver’s license number, even your date of birth, may all be exposed on Metro Nashville’s criminal justice information portal that is open to the public – even if you’ve never been arrested or had any contact with law enforcement.
We began our investigation in May, after an identity theft victim contacted us after finding their name, birthday, & social security number inside a Metro Police affidavit published on the Criminal Court Clerk’s website. They had already been a victim of a single person stealing their identity once, and now the police officer that took the report had put all their specific details inside the arrest affidavit, a judicial magistrate signed the warrant with all the information not redacted, making it an official public document, and the clerk’s office automatically published to their website it as part of the standard process.
Here’s some examples of the hundreds the documents we found by some simple targeted searching. If you know what charges to look for on a daily docket list, it’s pretty simple to see someone else’s private information, such as social security numbers, with just a few clicks of your mouse. Here’s some examples from the hundreds we found with minimal search effort:
This person has never had any contact with law enforcement in Nashville, however a defendant gave a fake social security number to an officer, so that officer searched it, and then documented who it actually belonged to in the free-text area of the affidavit, signed off on by the judicial commissioner, and automatically published by the clerk’s office for all the world to see:
This man is a victim of identity theft, and the arrested person was in possession of his driver’s license and SSN card, the details of both written into the public record by the arresting officer, signed off by the judicial commissioner, and automatically published by the clerk’s office for the world to see:
It’s not just Metro Police, but many other agencies that are putting social security numbers and other ID numbers in affidavits for the world to see. In this document, TWRA charged a man with BUI, and then exposed his SSN and TNID numbers to the world (accompanying his full name, DOB, and address – which are already publicly available on the website. One click and an identity thief could take over his entire identity and life. This particular TWRA officer has a sustained habit of putting this information in all of his arrest warrants, as seen below, publicly available from the court clerk’s website:
This officer simply ran the rag of a vehicle, the owner of which was not even on the scene, yet proceeded to put the owner’s name, driver’s license number, date of birth, and social security number, in the public affidavit:
Airport Police were in on the action too, as in the example below where they freely typed his SSN into the affidavit, for which his name, address, and DOB were already publicly available – a perfect mix for a completely identity theft.
Here are some other various examples that show some other situations in which ‘protected’ information has been made available to the public in the same manner.
We limited our search range to targeted searches based on charges from the publicly available daily court dockets, and limited the range to random days within the past 2 years. The result was hundreds of examples identical to the above examples. However that leaves 12 additional years of affidavits we didn’t even attempt to search, so it’s hard to say exactly how many people have their private information, including social security numbers, exposed for anyone to see on the Metro Criminal Court Clerk’s website, written by officers (including VUPD, MNPD, Airport Police, TWRA, & more), and signed off on by judicial commissioners.
We reached out to MNPD, since their officers were the majority of the authors of the exposed information, and a spokesperson said:
“Police officers have been periodically reminded at roll calls over the years to not put social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc., in affidavits. If someone discovers this through the on-line affidavits through the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office, the Clerk’s office should be contacted, as the affidavit is an official court document.”
In May of 2004, Metro’s presiding Judicial Commissioner sent a message to his colleagues advising:
“Soon affidavits of complaint can be viewed on the Criminal Court Clerk’s website. It will be incumbent upon us to closely scrutinize affidavits of complaint for property crimes theft crimes (especially Identity Theft), and Criminal Impersonation to be certain that the probable cause narrative in the affidavit does not contain social security numbers, credit card account numbers, checking account numbers or any other financial information pertaining to the victim/affiant. I will request that police officers refrain from entering that information into the probable cause narrative either they prepare for themselves or private affiants. If you should find any social security numbers or financial information in the probable cause narrative of an affidavit, delete the information. Such numerical information is not a prerequisite to establishing probable cause that criminal process should issue, and this information can be testified to at the initial probable cause hearing as well as any and all subsequent proceedings.”
According to a Judicial Commissioner – it is their final responsibility to make sure things such as social security numbers are not included in the final version of the document, but clearly that process has failed.
We did not yet receive replies from the Clerk’s office, TWRA, or Airport police, in response to this article.