Do government sites contribute to identity theft?

Browsing a government Web site, the susect pulled up a local divorce document listing the parties' names, addresses and bank account numbers, along with scans of their signatures.

It seemed like such a good idea. Governments post public documents online in the interest of open government. But as this New York Times articles relates, such publishing may do far more harm than good. In another twist on security versus access, score one for the identity thieves.

The suspect showed officers something they had not seen before. Browsing a government Web site, he pulled up a local divorce document listing the parties' names, addresses and bank account numbers, along with scans of their signatures. With a common software program and some check stationery, the document provided all he needed to print checks in his victims' names — and it was all made available, with some fanfare, by the county recorder's office. The site had thousands of them.

The Times article take an in-depth look at identify theft in Phoenix, but it provides food for thought for all government entities putting information on the Web.

While banks' rush to put information online is a big part of the problem, the article also points to government Web portals.

And the county's Web site, which earned a place in the Smithsonian's permanent research collection on information technology innovation, has made Social Security numbers and other information, once viewable only by visiting the county recorder's office, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Police officers and prosecutors in Phoenix knew of just two cases involving public records, but most victims do not know how their identities are stolen.

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