The Challenge: Protect Personal Information Within 12-Million Document Pages
Fort Bend County, located in the Houston metropolitan area of southeast Texas, strives to be the most family-friendly community in the state by providing a high-quality, enriching and safe environment for county citizens. Approximately 525,000 people reside in the county, which is among the top 20 fastest growing counties in the U.S.
When the State of Texas considered making it mandatory that all counties needed to make sure that the personal information of citizens could not be accessed by the general public, it created quite a challenge for Dianne Wilson, County Clerk of Ft. Bend County.
“At first it appeared that the counties would be liable if any citizens experienced identity theft due to social security numbers, driver’s license numbers or bank account numbers being taken from a public document via the Web,” Wilson said. “But the bill that was eventually passed only required us to block-out this type of information if we received a written request from a citizen.”
But the public fury that the controversy initially stirred-up, which included many counties shutting down their Web sites while waiting for the law to be clarified, prompted Wilson to realize Ft. Bend County needed to take proactive steps beyond what the new law required. “With the technology that is available today, identity theft is becoming more prevalent,” Wilson explained. “For the benefit of our citizens, and for the peace-of-mind of our internal staff, we needed to do something to protect citizen privacy. Even if we are not liable, we would still regret it if anyone suffered a hardship due to personal information being taken from our Web site-where public records, such as property documents, are posted for the public to view freely.”
Wilson thus launched a project to research solutions that would allow Ft Bend County to redact (black out) any personal identification numbers on public records such as title insurance certificates, liens, property deeds and other land-transaction documents posted by the county. Wilson planned to redact all numbers other than the last four digits so that individuals with the same names could still be distinguished from each other. She also determined the county should redact PINs on documents going back 10 years. The project would thus require that PINs appearing on approximately 12-million pages of documents be reviewed, redacted and then verified.
“We realized this would be a massive undertaking,” Wilson said. “But we were determined to protect the privacy of our citizens.”