Bush Emails Accidentally Disclose Personal Data

Jeb Bush

Inage courtesy of Right to Rise PAC

Bush Emails Accidentally Disclose Personal Data
| published February 14, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

The complexities and risks associated with embedding or attaching things to emails can affect anyone, even a presumed Presidential candidate.

This week, spokespersons for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush confirmed that thousands of Social Security numbers may have been accidentally released when the governor’s team made available tens of thousands of emails and other documents, one of several steps Bush hopes will solidify his position as fully accountable to the public and the press. That gesture of accountability may have backfired, though it is not clear exactly what consequences this incident may have for Bush’s long term political options.

According to some security experts who have reviewed the released material, Bush’s emails included hidden spreadsheet data—the sort of material sometimes routinely attached or embedded in emails for internal purposes. In this case the data was in the form of Excel and PowerPoint attachments, some of which contained names, addresses and social security information dating back to around 2002 and 2003. Security experts found the numbers only after the fact, when a closer inspection of the emails revealed the hidden data. The Social Security numbers were obscured from view, even when the attached documents were inspected, but could be accessed by opening up the closed, or hidden, panels or tabs.

Spokespersons for Bush say that they have redacted the emails and attempted to delete the data. They have also broken links in some emails which may have led a persistent searcher back to the original sources of the data.

The spreadsheet with the Social Security numbers was, according to reporters for the Associated Press, part of a report involving the tracking of Florida residents on waiting lists for state or county services, specifically a presentation titled “Developmental Disabilities Home and Community-Based Waiver Waitlist Data.” It would not be uncommon for Bush as governor to have access to such data, either in the form of a report or in a spreadsheet.

Some of the data in question had also been available—had ingenious searchers looked—at a separate website called American Bridge, which had uploaded much of the same material. There is no immediate evidence that any of the exposed personal data has fallen into the hands of criminals or wrongdoers, but several media sources were reporting that the Bush campaign is investigating how the material came to be so easily accessible. An attorney for Bush last year had asked the Florida Department of State to manage the redacting—or scrubbing—of all relevant emails to insure that such data was not accidentally disclosed with the release of Bush’s emails.

Under Florida’s Sunshine Laws, all correspondence by Bush as Governor would have been available for research purposes and for public inspection for years, and the State Archives of Florida would have been charged with handling such information and data. The Florida Department of State and the State Archives are currently reviewing the procedures for handling private information when it is attached to public documents.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Likely Progressive Attack: Bush is Romney Part 2; Thursday Review; February 9, 2015.

Mitt Romney Says No to 2016; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; January 30, 2015.