California snafu releases personal info of nearly 4,000 gun safety instructors
The private information of thousands of California firearms instructors was accidentally released by the state late last year in response to a journalist’s Freedom of Information request.
The data request was made in August, when a reporter for Southern California Public Radio (KPCC), an NPR affiliate, sought all information on Firearms Safety Certifications available from the California Department of Justice.
The information was released in October, and a clerical error gave the reporter wide access to the personal information of 3,424 firearms instructors -- whose dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and California identification numbers were handed over, according to NRA-ILA, the legislative arm of the National Rifle Association.
The error was caught two months later, and the California DOJ sent out a letter to all of the Golden State’s instructors letting them know their personal information had been compromised.
“The Department discovered the data breach on October 17, 2016, and notified the requestor of the error and asked that the information be destroyed and that no further dissemination of it occur,” said the letter, sent by the Office of the Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris is now a U.S. senator.
The letter also recommended the firearm instructors place a fraud alert on their credit. Since driver's license numbers are appealing to identity thieves, a fraud alert could prevent criminals from misusing someone's personal data.
NRA officials blasted the California DOJ for its data breach and questioned why it took the department so long to alert the thousands who were affected.
“This privacy breach is just another example of the California Department of Justice’s disregard for the rights of gun owners,” Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for the NRA, said to FoxNews.com. “There’s no reason why the private information of firearms instructors should have been released – the DOJ redacts information all the time."
Baker also questioned the length of time it took the state to inform victims of the breach.
“It’s time the California government start awarding gun owners the same respect as it does non-gun owners.”
Some security experts said that while it wasn't a significant data breach, there is still cause for concern.
“The main concern, if any, would be identity theft, simply because it is so prevalent,” police consultant and retired Los Angeles Police Lt. Raymond Foster said to FoxNews.com. “I don’t think anyone would threaten these instructors, but one concern is that many of them are retired police officers and that could put them at an additional risk. Most of them when they are off-duty like to lie low and blend in.
“But I’d imagine that NPR would never publish this info and would likely just rip it up.”
The reporter, who the NRA-ILA identifies as Aaron Mendelson, acknowledged in his FOIA request that part of his request would be redacted.
“…Please inform me of the redaction and the legal justification for it,” said the request, which was obtained by FoxNews.com.
Since receiving the data, it appears that none of the information has been published in any recent stories. In its letter to firearm instructors, the California DOJ said that it had asked the reporter to destroy the information he received and if he did not do so he would face legal action.
Neither Mendelson nor officials for Southern California Public Radio immediately returned calls for comment.
Gun instructors in California took the news of their information being released in stride. Dennis Santiago, an independent gun safety instructor in the Los Angeles area, who received the DOJ letter, told FoxNews.com he at first thought it was a hacking incident.
“I was speaking with other instructors at a gun shop about it and they didn’t seem too concerned,” Santiago said. "They took it as being the cost of being in America.”