Monday, August 13, 2007

BMV documents highlight holes in the system

My biggest fear about the personal information we found in the dumpster of the BMV parking lot in Farlawn (see story: BMV Investigation Part 1 and BMV Investigation Part 2 isn't that the items were tossed out ... but that the best BMV explanation is that they knew it was happening .. and did nothing but blame the customers.

For starters, this is one of those topics that hits all of us because we all get license plates and drivers licenses.

The story actually fell into my lap from another local business owner who found some of the documents blowing around in the parking lot. The owner called the state and then called me in the newsroom; I just happened to beat the state folks to the scene. When I saw the info on the documents, my jaw hit the floor. When the business owner pointed to the dumpster from which the documents had originally blown away, I had to look inside .. and there were more of them. Lots more. Moments after I collected the documents, a state BMV supervisor showed up and was surprised to say the least to see me standing by the dumpster.

Later the local BMV sent over a spokesperson, the deputy registrar's son. I guess I expected the spokesperson to say that this was a big mistake and the documents shouldn't have ended up in the dumpster. Instead, he admitted that those types of documents are tossed in the trash every day. He blamed the customers themselves claiming they leave the documents in the BMV lobby trash can and therefore disposing of the personal documents is "not our responsibility." It was almost as if he was saying, "they get what they deserve if they don't pay attention." What kind of customer service is that?

Even if you buy that explanation, wouldn't you expect clerks to at least make an effort to better dispose of those documents? Wouldn't you expect them to at least mention to customers not to toss them in the public trash?

The state investigators who are looking at our documents don't seem to buy that explanation. For starters, there were shredded documents mixed in with the un-shredded documents that we found so that would suggest that the trash came from behind the counter and not a public trash container in the lobby. Second, the investigators tell me that some of the documents we found aren't available to the public so they wouldn't be in a public trash can anyway.

The agents from the Dept. of Public Safety who I've met over the last few days have been top-notch. Very thorough and professional. They have been quick to respond (arriving at our office in less than two hours after we called them) and proactive in stopping the bleeding by sending an email to all 200+ registrars in Ohio letting them know what's happened in Fairlawn and reminding them to safeguard the public's information. They've also begun calling the 30 folks whose information we found in the dumpster five days ago.

Again, I keep coming back to the idea that BMV clerks knew that the documents were out there in the trash (for how long this has been happening we don't know) and felt like, "oh well. Tough." Makes you wonder what other information is floating around out there, eh?


Anonymous said...

Kudos on a great story! How incredible that someone thought it was a good idea to put that less-than-credible kid in front of the camera to try and explain away this public disservice. Thanks for taking the approach you have and for working with the BMV at the state level to help ensure that this matter is addressed.

Colin Morris said...

There's no story here. I'd elaborate, but I've already responded.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this was great investigative reporting about an issue that should be important to all of us - the improper disposing of private information. There should be shredding of all documents and trash at a place like the License Bureau. This story should be a wake up call for all of us including the management of the License Bureau. Please continue to report stories like this. Also could you have a follow-up story down the road on this one?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there were documents in the dumpster from behind the License Bureau's counter.

And yes, there were documents with people's personal information.

But they weren't the same documents. The documents found from behind the counter did not have any personal inflammatory information on them.

The papers that did have the addresses and social security numbers on were mail-in renewal forms and registrations that were clearly labeled CUSTOMER COPY. Both of these papers are, obviously, the customers' responsibility to shred. Taylor's argument that lazy customers just dump these papers in trash without ripping them up or taking them home to shred is entirely plausible in this case.

Mansfield also forgot to note that the dumpsters being rifled through were shared dumpsters and that trash bags taken from directly outside the Bureau, where customers are most likely to pitch these papers, are also thrown there.

Talk about balanced reporting. Whoops, that was sarcasm. Talk about stacking the deck against someone, ignoring important facts for the sake of ratings, and talk about a witchhunt.

I wonder if his producers knew this.

Good thing he didn't put any of that stuff in the story, though, because if he did, then there wouldn't be a story.

Keep up the great work, Channel 3. Again, note the sarcasm.

Eric Mansfield said...

Dear anonymous poster(s) with no backbone ...

I invite you to watch the story again (the links are in my post) and note that the people whose information was found in the dumpster claim they left those documents with the clerks and did NOT trash the documents themselves. Are you calling all four of these local drivers liars? Do you want to know what the other 26 drivers said too?

According to state investigators, documents (even "customer copies) left with the clerks should be shredded. These weren't.

I invite your opinions .. even those critical of our stories .. as a way to further discussion of good topics here on this blog.

Just make sure you consider all of the facts presented in the story and not just those you choose to support your agenda.

And stop whining ..


Anonymous said...

No kidding!!!

Anonymous said...

Aren't those forms from "behind the counter" that anonymous is speaking of controlled forms? They looked like applications for lost license replacement. I think I filled one of those out recently, but I don't recall it being given back to me. How do we safeguard applications for identification in the post 911 world? Where is the owner? Why is the student son sent out to speak? This one has legs, Eric. Please don't stop digging.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how this can be happening. What, if any safegaurds does the state have to protect us from this? How can anyone blame this on their customers? We need to make sure this does not get swept under the rug. Our idetities are at stake. Customers should not have to rely on hope, that HIPPA Laws are being followed.

Anonymous said...

We are all required to get license plates and drivers licenses. Why would any business place blame on customers. Why would the state allow this? What if anything will the state do about this? Who is in charge of this business? We need to get answers. Who is the Deputy Registar in charge? Why have we not heard from this individual?