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County software access causes privacy stir

Elected officials spar over database permissions


June 13, 2019

The controversy of permissions within the county’s software system cropped up again last week. The county commissioners were asked to balance privacy concerns against the needs of elected officials to correctly fulfill their roles.

The conversation was triggered by a specific issue faced by the County Clerk’s Office. By statute, said Clerk Linda Fritz, her office requires a sales receipt on vehicles, but she has been locked out of the particular program that gives access to this information.

Fritz informed the commissioners that she has hired a personal attorney because the issue could cause her to be in violation of the statutes her office must follow. She said Treasurer Mary Kuhl is concerned over customer privacy issues and had stated she might be willing to provide certificates of exemption instead, but this may not solve the problem.

County Attorney Joe Baron, acting as a moderator, provided a list of the specific programs used within the county’s offices and asked the gathered elected officials to explain what each one does, who enters information into it and who needs to be able to access it to see the information.

Administrative control of the programs was not discussed because is now in the hands of the county’s IT specialists, Pro River, which means no individual within a county office can create a new user or change permissions without Pro River’s knowledge.

This change was made around a year ago in response to the discovery that an unidentified person within the courthouse had created user accounts with a long list of permissions that allowed them access to protected data such as payroll. The accounts in question were also removed.

Two of the listed programs proved contentious, with Kuhl objecting to any other office having access to the data stored inside them. The first of these, “Taxwise Registrations”, is the program through which registrations for new and commercial vehicles and renewals are issued.

This information is confidential, Kuhl said, according to federal regulations in the Driver Privacy Protection Act. Though Fritz pointed out that statutes on this matter excludes government use, Kuhl was adamant that federal rules supersede state statutes and she is not open to sharing the information without a disclosure form. “According to the rules, we have to have a record,” she said.

Fritz explained that she needs to be able to view the information to perform the functions of her own office. Sheriff Jeff Hodge also commented that he needs access to the information.

Kuhl pointed out that the information is transmitted to the state twice a week. However, said Fritz, there is a fee for access to the state’s database, so “we would be paying a bill for [the program] to access county records”; Deputy Clerk Melissa Jones added that it also takes a long time for the state to grant access to the database due to complications from the age of the system.

“Many other counties have access,” responded Fritz to Hodge’s enquiry as to how data from treasurer’s offices is shared in other parts of Wyoming. He was later able to verify this through his own research.

The second program, “Taxwise Cash Receipting”, is used to record postage charges when a license plate is mailed, said Kuhl. Fritz requested read-only access to find receipts and to assist her when preparing the budget, as the data is public record.

However, said Kuhl, much of the same information that is stored in the first program also flows through this one. She objected to sharing access on the same basis.

On a different note, two programs unrelated to the issue at hand also caused a moment of surprise. Both are intended for the use of the Assessor’s Office but, as previous occupants of that elected seat have preferred not to use them, they had been passed over to the Treasurer’s Office and current Assessor Theresa Curren had not been made aware of them.

“I didn’t even know I had this option,” she said, stating that she would like to take ownership back.

Baron will now prepare a legal opinion on the access issue for the county commissioners to consider at next month’s meeting.


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