On Tuesday, Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and rumored 2016 GOP Presidential candidate, released 250,000 of his emails from his time as governor. Included in the release were the home addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers of several Florida residents, who are now at risk for having their identities stolen, following Bush’s “transparency inspired” release.
“In the spirit of transparency, I am posting the emails of my governorship here,” Bush wrote on a website created to archive the emails titled Jeb Bush Emails.
“Email kept me connected to Floridians and focused on the mission of being their governor,” wrote Bush. “Some are funny; some are serious; some I wrote in frustration.”
The Verge was the first to report that while Bush’s massive email release “seems like a great idea in the name of transparency,” the emails were not redacted beforehand, and the fact that some of the messages contained the “email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers of Florida residents” was not discovered until afterwards.
Richard Harrison, a private attorney in Florida told The Verge that while Florida’s freedom of information laws are broad, social security numbers are both “confidential and exempt” from public disclosure and can only be released for “limited purposes” under Florida law.
“It doesn’t matter how an agency or official obtained the information,” said Harrison. “Once obtained it is a public record and the SSNs are confidential and exempt under the law.”
According to Harrison, the blame for the release of the confidential information does not fall on Bush, but on Florida’s legal custodian of records. The Verge noted that if found responsible, the custodian “might get off with just a scratch,” due to the fact that his or her violation is considered a “noncriminal infraction,” which is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
The Associated Press reported that along with contact information, Bush’s emails “offer up potentially harmful information about Floridians’ employment disputes, health issues and legal troubles.”
Given the uproar that followed over the release of the residents’ private information, Bush’s spokesperson released a statement to Buzzfeed saying that Bush and his team have chosen to redact the emails:
“Last year, we requested the State specifically comply with Florida statute regarding exemptions and redactions. We have redacted personal identifying information from two emails brought to our attention. We are doing an electronic search for any additional emails that may fall into this category and will do the same.”