Second woman says changes must be made to Florida Address Confidentiality Program

'We have to leave everything, move far away so that we can be safe,' woman says

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Another woman has come forward to News 6 following our investigation into the Florida Address Confidentiality Program. She says the state program, which is designed to protect victims of domestic violence and stalking, is falling short.

 



She says not only has she experienced a breach of her own information, but that many state and county workers have no idea the program even exists, let alone how to handle the highly confidential addresses of its members.

 

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

The woman, who we are calling Jane, is a domestic violence survivor and asked us not to reveal her real name, where she lives, or what she looks like.

Jane says she and others like her do everything they can just to stay alive and to keep their abusers from finding them or their family members.

"We have to leave everything we have to move far away so that we can be safe," Jane said. "We do have to live in fear, because these people are not rational."

Jane says she joined Florida's Address Confidentiality Program back in 2008, after her boyfriend tried to kill her. But while in the program, she had her bank card stolen and someone racked up hundreds of charges on it, something Jane says should have never happened.

"I said this is my life, I need to know what is going on," Jane said. "Something is wrong here."

News 6 called the Florida Attorney General's Office, which runs the ACP program, and the program's director confirmed the theft did happen, but he says even though his office is the one that handles participants' mail, it wasn't their fault.

 

Read more: Data breach uncovered in state program designed to protect domestic violence, stalking victims

"If there was a breach, it did not happen at the Attorney General's Office. That, I'm 100 percent sure of," said Emery Gainey, the attorney general's ACP director of client relations and law enforcement. "That mail never reached our office. If it was indeed compromised, it was compromised at one of those points either in transit to the post office, or in transit from the post office."

But Gainey does admit now only three trusted people know the real, physical addresses of each participant in the ACP program - or have access to their mail. But Gainey says there is nothing they can do to protect an ACP member's old public records information that might still be out there on a public database from before they were entered into the program.

"What the ACP program does is allow those individuals to protect their physical address for the purpose of mail - we handle that mail," Gainey said.

The director went on to say it is the supervisors of elections' responsibility - not the attorney general's - to keep ACP voter information safe. Gainey recommends for everyone to check their personal voter information in light of all the recent database breaches - including the major breach involving Equifax and Wells Fargo.

But Jane says while she does everything she can to try to keep her and her family safe, she can't say the same for state and county workers, whose job it is to protect their confidential information from accidentally being found.

"One slip-up, one weakness of me or anyone else causes my death and the death of those around me," Jane said.

In an email sent to News 6, Jane documented how a volunteer with the state tried to help her register to vote online, even though that would put her confidential information at risk of being found.

She says she also had to educate state workers on the program when getting her driver's license.

"It is very difficult," Jane said,  "and it could be made easier."

She says she even had to get the ACLU involved when the supervisor of elections in her county didn't even know how to properly register her to vote. She says was also surprised when she went to visit one Florida county courtroom’s domestic violence unit, and discovered they had never even heard of the ACP program.

"I have to know everybody's jobs better than they do," Jane said. "Because if they make one mistake - in their own job, in their own policies, procedures, processes - I'm the one who gets dead."

Jane says she thinks the Attorney General's Office needs to do more to educate and notify state workers about the ACP program and how to protect its more-than 1,000 members, which at last count stands at 1,173 members.

"Please be an outreach to the other departments within the state of Florida," Jane pleaded. "Tell them that it exists!"

Jane says the Attorney General's Office should take more ownership of these reported concerns.

"They could be doing a lot more, and I have called them on it," Jane said. "And (Gainey) said to me, 'We don't have it in our budget in order to do that.'"

The Attorney General's Office stands firm in its stance that it is the responsibility of each county's supervisors of elections to keep ACP voter information safe. But our investigation uncovered that each office handles ACP information in a different way.

"I think this was a program that was created with great intention," said Mark Early, the supervisor of elections in Leon County. "But it grew organically instead of okay,let's sit down, let's address this as a group."

 

Why all the discrepancies? Early says there's a lack of good training. 
He agrees more needs to be done, especially with all the recent security breaches happening across the nation.

Early says in Leon County, they keep their ACP members' information offline and locked up tight in a safe. But he confirms not every office does that.

 

Over at the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections office, Supervisor Mike Ertel said they also keep all their ACP information in a safe, and that only two designated people can access the information.

 

"Once they presented they are part of this program, its our responsibility to protect them," Ertel said.

 

Ertel said it's alarming and distressing for him to see two ACP members from other counties voice their concerns because all supervisors are educated in the law that protects members' confidential information, so he believes officials from each county should be following the same rules. 

 

"This is a program that's put in place to help folks who are very victimized to not be victimized," Ertel said.

 

Early said that isn't always the case, though.

 

"I think there does need to be a better education effort to make sure there are uniform and well understood guidelines," Early said.

 

Early is calling for something to be done, and Jane couldn't agree more.


"My life depends on it," Jane said. "The life of people I care about depends on it."

All 67 county supervisors of elections met at their winter conference this week, and Early said beforehand that bringing up these ACP concerns was his top priority.

 

News 6 also spoke with the Attorney General's Office and officials with the Division of Elections, who said they take all ACP concerns very seriously.

 

All members are encouraged to check their information with their county election offices and any public databases to make sure it is deleted.

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