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Florida lawyer sues state for public records in response to ACP data breach

ACP program protects participants identification information

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Florida lawyer is suing the state to try to get results for his client. He has filed an open records lawsuit that could potentially prove the state of Florida released the confidential information of hundreds of domestic violence victims. At least one of those victims is afraid her family was put at risk.

A woman whom we are only identifying as Sam said she found out her address and other information had been released through voter records - even though it was supposed to be protected.

“We believe there has been a breach,” said Tony Conticello, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

Conticello told News 6 Investigators he has been practicing law for the past 17 years and has extensive experience with Sunshine Law compliance. He said he has spent countless hours on this case, working pro-bono to help Sam find answers. He agrees more needs to be done to inform and protect members of the Address Confidentiality Program. But he thinks the state should consider changing or adding protections to the state laws as well.

“You would hope that an agency in charge of taking care of these people, when they found out information that potentially could have compromised the information, that they would do something,” said Conticello.

He said he was shocked at how Sam was treated by the state when she started asking questions about the release of her confidential information, and he asked the state for information to try to connect the dots. Specifically, he asked for the public records requests that led up to the initial release of the confidential information.
He also wants to know what software was used to store the voter data between 2003 and 2006 -and who received all that confidential information.


But, Conticello said, the legal counsel for the Florida Department of State said the office didn't have those records.
So he filed the lawsuit, hoping the courts would order the state to turn the records over.


“Putting your head in the sand and just not doing anything is not an acceptable response,” said Conticello. “They should take some kind of action, notification, because, these people, some of them live in fear of harm on a regular day-to-day basis. So, yes, we are going to dig in. We are going to talk with the Department of State and ultimately find out if they have some records.”


This week, News 6 checked in with Conticello. He said he still has not received all the information he has requested from the Department of State.


News 6 received a statement from the Department of State saying that, if a breach happened, it happened at the county level.

The statement, from Sarah Revell, director of communications at the Florida Department of State, follows.

  • "Supervisors of Elections are responsible for the voter registration of an ACP participant who wants to register to vote and for protecting the record of an ACP participant who is already registered to vote in his or her county.
  • "Voter registration records of ACP participants were and still are maintained at the county level in the Supervisor of Elections Office.
  • "Prior to the establishment of the Florida Voter Registration System in 2006, each county Supervisor of Elections had responsibility for their own voter rolls.
  • "Prior to 2006, Supervisors of Elections would upload voter registration data to the Division of Elections.
  • "The Supervisors of Elections were responsible for ensuring ACP participant data was not uploaded to the Division of Elections.
  • "If Supervisors of Elections offices sent voter registration data to the Division of Elections that included ACP voters, we had no way of knowing because that information was solely with the Supervisor of Elections office."


News 6 also received this response to a list of questions from the Attorney General’s office stating:
 
The program is administered by the Office of the Attorney General's Bureau of Advocacy and Grants. However, we do not house voter records. Those records are held by the Secretary of State and Supervisor of Elections. The Secretary of State's Division of Elections coordinates with the local elected Supervisors of Elections who holds the exclusive responsibility under the applicable statutes regarding the maintenance and confidentiality of voter records. Please see the following statutes for more information: Florida Statues, Section 741.403; Section 741.465(2); and Section 741.4651. Please contact the Division of Elections (DOE) for information regarding their handling of Protected Voter records.
--Kylie Mason, Press Secretary, Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
 
When asked if there was a breach of the program, the Attorney General’s Office had this to say.
 
Questions regarding DOE and their data should be directed to the DOE. The OAG has no information regarding any breach of information by any agency at or around that time.
--Kylie Mason, Press Secretary, Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
 
And the Department of state answered that same question with this statement:
Voter registration records of ACP participants were and still are maintained at the county level in the Supervisor of Elections office. Prior to FVRS (Florida Voter Registration System) in 2006, counties would upload voter registration data to the Division of Elections into what was called the Central Voter Registration File. The Division had no way at that time to check the data for any ACP participants. The Supervisors of Elections were responsible for ensuring ACP participant data was not uploaded to the Division of Elections. If Supervisors of Elections offices sent voter registration data to the Division of Elections that included ACP voters, we had no way of knowing that and it is possible the information was released to fulfill a public records request for voter registration data. The department has no way of knowing how many, if any, ACP voters’ information was potentially released. Once FVRS was implemented in 2006, a standardized process for registering ACP participants to vote was established in rule. The Supervisors of Elections continue to have sole authority to register voters, including the process to register ACP participants to vote or if already registered wanting to have their records protected. The records are still maintained at the local level, however, now the records are required to be maintained outside the FVRS.  Additionally, the Supervisors of Elections' started forwarding ACP participants' voter registration applications (redacted for address) and ACP participant acknowledgment cards to the Division of Elections. This accomplished two goals: 1) To act as the central pass-through for acknowledgment cards to be returned to the AG's ACP program administrator so he or she would know that an ACP participant had registered to vote, and 2) To allow the Division of Elections to conduct ongoing eligibility checking as it does for all voter records. The Division of Elections maintains the address redacted copy of the voter registration record as forwarded by the respective Supervisor of Elections outside the FVRS.  It is still incumbent on the ACP participant to provide the proper documentation to the Supervisor as to his or her ACP participant status or to notify the old county of residence and a new county that he or she is an ACP participant.--Sarah, Revell, Director of Communications, Florida Department of State

As to Conticello's claims of not receiving the information requested, Revell sent this response. 

“The Florida Department of State has fully responded to every request made by Mr. Conticello in a timely manner. We have provided all records in the department’s possession that are responsive to his requests.”

But Conticello's said he would not have had to sue the state had they responded with all the documents he requested in a timely manner. He said he still does not believe he received everything he requested.