|12/12/2005 – By Kurt Erickson
SPRINGFIELD — State government workers could be prosecuted if they do not shred documents containing personal information of residents.
Under legislation expected to be debated next spring, two state lawmakers are taking aim at a problem exposed by a newspaper’s probe of the way sensitive documents are disposed of by at least one state agency.
By sifting through garbage dumpsters, reporters at the Belleville News-Democrat found Illinois Department of Human Services workers had routinely thrown out records with names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers, all of which can be used to steal people’s identities.
The measure, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Bob Flider of Mt. Zion and Brandon Phelps of Norris City, would make it a misdemeanor offense if a state worker tosses such information without shredding it first.
“We would certainly agree with the overall intent (of the proposal),” said Human Services spokesman Tom Green. “The intent is to protect certain information.”
Since the newspaper’s investigation, the agency has begun taking steps to assure sensitive information is safeguarded, Green said.
Officials are surveying all 120 field offices to make sure they have shredders that can handle large volumes of documents. The agency also is investigating whether to put locks on all of the dumpsters.
Green also said memos have been sent to the field offices outlining what documents are confidential and how they are to be disposed of.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Illinois ranked 10th among states for the number of identity theft cases reported in 2004. In the past year, 11,138 Illinoisans reported incidents of identity theft to the FTC, which maintains the nationwide database of identity theft complaints.
Illinois has taken steps to curb the rise in identity theft. Last spring, the General Assembly approved legislation that requires data collectors to notify individuals if a breach of security permits access to the name in combination with other sensitive documents, such as a driver’s license.
In North Carolina, a law recently went into effect requiring companies to shred people’s personal documents.
Reports indicate the North Carolina law was prompted by the discovery of all of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s old tax returns in a public dumpster. The well-known coach’s tax firm had thrown them in the trash.
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