Greene County Sheriffs Make ID Theft Easy
Contributed By: Derrick Marshall
Originally Published as
Raw footage of my attorney Stephen Wyse and myself delivering a complaint to the Greene County Sheriff’s Department in Springfield, MO. The complaint was to notify the department they were violating the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act by broadcasting social security numbers over a public dispatch channel.
Following my discovery that Springfield, Missouri law enforcement agencies were broadcasting social security numbers over public dispatch channels in violation of the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, I launched an investigation into the practice. In less than 2 weeks I had recorded 10 instances of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, Springfield Police Department, and the Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications Center using unsecured dispatch channels to communicate social security numbers, dates of birth, names, and other personally identifiable information between agencies.
In response to what I believe is extremely negligent behavior that easily provides an identity thief with all the information they need to take over someone’s life, I contacted Civil Rights Attorney Stephen Wyse to help me draft and deliver complaints to the offending agencies. After uncovering 2 Missouri state laws that fit along the same lines as the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, my attorney and I set out with a stack of complaints, each coupled with a USB drive containing the recorded violations, and a Citizens For Justice cameraman in tow.
Upon reaching the Greene County Justice Center we were informed that we could drop the complaint off and it would be forwarded to the Sheriff Jim Arnott. We agreed and left the building. As we were preparing to deliver a copy of the complaint to their next location, Captain Jeremy Lynn of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department’s Criminal Investigations Division emerged from the county building along with two deputies.
When confronted with the complaint, Captain Lynn informed us that his department required a specific form be filled out in order for the complaint to be considered valid. He stated that the complaint and attached recordings amounted to nothing more than a citizen casually dropping by the office to compliment a deputy on his work.
Wyse responded that the sheriff’s department was breaking the law by broadcasting sensitive information to the general public and that the complaint we had delivered meant that the Greene County Sheriff’s Department had been put on notice. Wyse informed Captain Lynn that whatever burdensome requirements the department had placed on their Internal Affairs process were irrelevant to the matter at hand. Wyse told the Criminal Investigations Division Commander that their department was free to continue to violate the law but alluded to the fact that claims of improperly filling would more than likely not stand up in court.
The complaint was not addressed to the Internal Affairs division, and while neither of us were opposed to IA investigating the claim, the document contained accusations of criminal behavior and could have been investigated as a criminal complaint by any detective within the captain’s division.
It was the opinion of both my attorney and me that Captain Lynn simply seemed disinterested in investigating his own officers for state and federal offenses.
Captain Lynn then pivoted his argument by attempting to justify the violations.
“You know that this a standard practice for every law enforcement agency in every part of the county?” Lynn asks rhetorically.
Wyse responded that other law enforcement agencies, specifically agencies in the Columbia, Missouri area where he works, have encrypted dispatch channels that can be used to communicate sensitive information. In addition, he pointed out that almost all law enforcement personnel have access to cell phones and in-car computer terminals which can be used to communicate information. Captain Lynn exhibited skepticism in response to the alternatives presented by the attorney.
Greene County Corporal Webb interjected that an identity could be stolen simply by obtaining a name and address. I responded that the sheriff’s department was releasing social security numbers, and that information was all an id thief needed to steal an identity. Wyse then explained that for this reason, federal law protected against the release of this information.
Captain Lynn countered that the State of Missouri used a driver’s license number in place of a social security number. Wyse responded that whether that was the case or not, social security numbers were being released over the air. Captain Lynn then circled back to his initial argument that the complaint wasn’t being properly filed.
Wyse finished by explaining that they just wanted to see that people weren’t having their identity stolen because of illegal actions on the part of law enforcement.
“Good Luck,” Captain Lynn responded.
What we were reporting was a criminal offense. By leaking social security numbers and other protected information, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department was breaking both state and federal law. I sincerely doubt the sheriff’s department turns away crime victims because they didn’t fill out the proper form. We showed up at the department’s Criminal Investigation Division which has deputies specifically assigned to take reports and work cases related to identity theft. Had we been reporting a private citizen for leaking the very same information I believe the interaction would have been handled much differently and our criminal complaint taken much more seriously. I don’t believe that the sheriff’s department would have argued the technicalities of how crimes/complaints needed to be filed. The only conceivable reason our complaint was handled in such a manner is because the accused offenders work within the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.
MO Lic. #2012034128
My interview with Citizen For Justice pertaining to the illegal release of personal information by the Springfield Police Department, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, and Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications Center