THE VIRGINIA WATCHDOG
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11/08/05 SAY IT AIN'T SO COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY AMBROGI! WHAT CODE OF VA LAW BOOK ARE YOU READING?
In an article in The Winchester Star published yesterday (Monday), the Frederick County Commonwealth's Attorney, Lawrence R.. Ambrogi, says having year, make, model, vehicle id number, etc. of vehicles, boats, planes, etc. on the Frederick County Treasurer's site is not violating the Virginia law found here COV 58.1-3 A & F .
He's WRONG!!! Why? Because just try and walk into the Treasurer's or the Commissioner's office and ask to see what cars/boats/planes etc. someone else owns and they'll tell you that the information you're asking about is CONFIDENTIAL and NOT PUBLIC RECORD. But yet if you come up with other people's SSNs you can get to the confidential info online via the Treasurer's website and that information isn't even supposed to be "published."
Instead of the Treasurer pulling the PP Tax info offline until the Attorney General tells him he's wrong, the Treasurer has left it exposed to anyone who has someone else's SSN and gets into the info - info that shouldn't be "published or disseminated" per that law above. Here's how to see what information he's publishing. Click here to go to the Frederick Treasurer's website and then click on "INQUIRY Help" (under the County seal)........ then on the next page under the seal, click on "Personal Property Public Inquiry" and when that page comes up scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page.... Here's what you will see as an example of how you own information is displayed:
(NOTE: This is reprinted off his website but look at how he is giving out Veh ID #S, year and make of vehicles, etc. This is on his FAQ page and is NOT really information for an existing person - just an example of how it looks..... Each Treasurer using the same system has this same thing showing on their site for the same non-existent person.)
When ANYONE goes to the Frederick County Treasurer's site and puts in a SSN of a REAL PERSON - someone they know or even someone they don't know - they can find out exactly what Personal Property ANYONE else in Frederick County owns. If someone wanted to find out what someone owns like cars, trucks, or boats/planes, etc., they could just go to the Clerk's office and find SSNs and corresponding names there on numerous types of documents like Final Divorce decrees, judgments, tax liens, UCCs, and mortgages, then go home and enter that SSN and last name and find out the year and makes of all Personal Property someone owns. But that information is supposed to be confidential per that Code of VA section cited and linked above. That law doesn't apply to "real" property (real estate).
Almost every Commissioner of the Revenue in this Commonwealth knows this law and abides by it and 95% of the Treasurers know it, but there are about 14 Treasurers who don't have a clue that they are (or were) exposing confidential information over the internet when they have "published" this information. And the Treasurers have no real "safeguards" to the PP tax info. Just merely by the info being on the internet is not "secure." Look how many websites are "hacked" into everyday and if someone is using Wi-Fi it would really be easy to capture their information and use it - especially if you are sitting near them when they are using their computer or down the street and intercept their signal. It's sort of like certain voting machines that are now being used in this state where it's possible to get into a voting machine from the parking lot and alter the votes and without a paper trail, who'd know. It's against the law but the jails are full and when someone gets into your computer if you're using Wi-Fi, then you are at risk and so is the information on your own computer.
On June 14, 2005 the VA Attorney General Jagdmann issued opinion #05-021 which contained this wording about these tax records:
Section 58.1-3 establishes a general principle that constitutional officers and other local tax and revenue officials must refrain from disclosing information about the transactions, property, income, or business of any taxpayer.15 That general rule was originally enacted by the 1926 Session of the General Assembly,16 and its application continues, "[e]xcept in accordance with a proper judicial order or as otherwise provided by law."17 Prior opinions of the Attorney General, however, have construed these exceptions narrowly and consistently have concluded that most information concerning individual taxpayers may not be disclosed to other officials of the locality for purposes unrelated to the collection of taxes.18
But if you go to the Frederick County Treasurer's site and click any of the Personal Property links OR "INQUIRY" LINKS (under the County seal) , you just have to have someone's SSN and last name to get to the information. If you click on the "INQUIRY HELP" links you can get a full picture of what you'd see by clicking on the PERSONAL PROPERTY PUBLIC INQUIRY FAQ ...then scroll on down the page and it shows you that the screen you'll see will give you the vehicle/boat/plane info and the taxes paid. But if you went into the Treasurer's office and gave them someone's SSN and last name and asked to see the vehicles, boats, etc. that person owned, you'd be told to hit the road, but yet they are giving away this information on the Internet.
For you Frederick County citizens, put in your own SSN and what you see is what someone else would see if they find your SSN or know it - like an ex-husband or ex-wife. Also pay attention to the "Disclaimer" which you have to accept. It basically is worthless and among other things says he's "NOT responsible if someone uses your SSN" to get into your information or "alter it" - information that shouldn't even be "published" online anyway according to the law! Then he says he "makes every effort to produce and publish the most current and accurate property tax." So with that line he is admitting to "publishing" that which the law says shouldn't be "published" !!! Then he says "Neither COUNTY OF FREDERICK nor the Treasurer's Office assumes any liability associated with use or misuse of this data." What a joke! He's publishing it but assumes no responsibility for it if someone misuses it or alters it ...
So if you have your ex's SSN or your neighbor's then you can see the year and make of their cars, trucks, boat, etc. ... and if you have forgotten your Ex's then look on your divorce papers! It's there most likely on the front page... If you haven't been divorced, then take a trip to your local Circuit Court Clerk's office and start looking at judgments, tax liens, child support enforcement liens, mortgages from the 90s', UCCs, and other documents that are loaded with SSNs.
Our VA legislators want all those Circuit Court Clerk's records which are related to land on the internet by next July 1, 2006 so when Frederick County Circuit Court Clerk goes online, ANYONE could then sign up and get into those records instead of trucking on down to the Courthouse. Then using the SSNs they find in the Circuit Court Clerk's records which are PUBLIC RECORDS, they could then get all the year, make, and vehicle/boat/plane info they want. But a person could also find out someone's current address or private PO Box that maybe someone uses instead of having mail sent to a regular address...
Here's the email that was sent to the Frederick County Treasurer, C. William Orndoff, Jr. who has yet to respond:
From: The Virginia Watchdog
Cc:firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 3:27 PM
Subject: Re: Your Personal Property Tax site is in violation of COV 58.1-3
The Virginia Watchdog
Dear Mr. Orndoff:
The Westmoreland County Treasurer has pulled down all her links to the Personal Property Tax info and I am requesting that you also do the same. Here is what your site looks like found at https://www.co.frederick.va.us/applications/trapps/index.htm
I am specifically concerned that you have published confidential Personal Property tax information on the internet (in violation of COV 58.1-3) under the mistaken belief that by requesting a person's SSN that this information is protected. Nothing could be further from the truth... And it's a Class 2 misdemeanor to publish or disseminate the information. (COV Section 58.1-3 - F.)
When someone clicks onto the links involving PP taxes above like the Personal Property Public Inquiry and the Yearly Personal Property Taxes Paid, they can enter ANYONE's SSN that they happen to have (like an Ex-wife's or Ex-husband's or ANYONE else's they happen to find over in the Circuit Court Clerk's office where SSNs are in those records by the tens of thousands and then you are enabling ANYONE to sit at their home computer and look up confidential Tax records. Not only ex-wives/husbands could get to this info but bank employees who have access to your SSN, car dealers you might be buying a car from, phone company employees or people you could buy cell phones from a the mall who want your SSN, credit card companies, debt collectors etc. OR if I (or ANYONE) went to your Circuit Court Clerk's office then I could just find the SSNs there and be in people's business.
Since it against the Code of VA to publish this information, will you consider shutting down all access to the Personal Property Tax records. Being able to pay a bill online is one thing where you just have to give a credit card number and an account number and pay a certain amount but to have someone's SSN and accessing confidential records is quite something else. 90% of VA Treasurers allow the tax bills to be paid online but they do not allow any sort of access to the Personal Property tax information like you are doing along with Shenandoah and Giles County. Other counties using the same system and BTW there are only ten of you using it have shut down the links. Most counties only allow the bill to be paid using an account number and printing out a receipt and then the taxpayer would be out of there - no access to what they're paying the bill for (ie a boat, plane, motorcycle, or car etc.) but that's not the way you are doing it.
I hope you will put some thought into this and shut down the parts of your website that deal with or show any vehs/boats/planes/buses etc. someone owns. No one has the right in this state to know that any other person owns any personal property and certainly not the type. And further do you or anyone else think that IRS would put our Federal tax info on the internet and then ONLY require a SSN to see Federal tax info? Because if that's so then I could be into Jeb Bush's and wife's records, Colin Powell's and wife's records, CIA Director Porter Goss' and wife's records. (see "examples of public records" I have printed on The Virginia Watchdog in protest to the Circuit Court Clerks who will be publishing their records like Deeds, mortgage papers, final divorce decrees, judgments, tax liens, etc that contain SSNs by the gazillions!
Or do you think that if I walked into your office with Someone's SSN that you would give me the info? No not hardly.
Thanks and I'll look forward to hearing from you. Oh, and it astounds me that you are putting anything to do with a SSN on your tax bills. Why even put the last four if that's what you're doing? A tax bill doesn't need that on it.
BJ Ostergren, Founder
The Virginia Watchdog
Okay citizens of Frederick County, get your Commonwealth's Attorney to read the law and prosecute this Treasurer and then get your Treasurer to halt the publication of the confidential PP tax info online... Tell him to only have on his website the information - and no more - than what is published in the Personal Property Tax Book that is open to the public in the Commissioner's office which is name, address, and amount of taxes paid...
And someone please buy your Commonwealth's Attorney a Code of VA law book!
(c) 2003 Ostergren, P.C. (Page Format Only)