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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


Not in defense of Wilson

This past week I spoke with a very articulate and dedicated reader of the Star who expressed some serious concerns about the public information dispersed by County Clerk Dianne Wilson who put all of the county clerk’s records on the Internet. While I have objected to the political nature of this attack on Wilson on two occasions, I am not discounting the concerns of the citizens of Fort Bend County who are increasingly looking at the overall picture of the potential ramifications of making this information readily available, via bulk sales, to heaven only knows who in the United States and elsewhere.

This gentleman says he and his wife have gone so far as to put a fraud alert on their credit cards and are considering looking into a fraud legal package. These packages add to the financial burden of those who subscribe to outside legal services and, as this reader pointed out, some who are on, or soon going to be on, fixed incomes may find this kind of precaution cost prohibitive.

“My concern is that the actions of Dr. Wilson could undo everything we worked so hard to do in our life and I cannot vote for someone who showed such poor judgment,” the reader stated.

This particular reader did his homework after finding personal information, which could easily be used by a unscrupulous identity theft suspect, on both himself and his wife on the internet. He spoke with Wilson, some of the county commissioners and others to get a handle on what was going on.

While my contention has been, and continues to be, that the information on the website is most likely less of a threat than a credit card receipt that falls into the hands of a not so honest employee at a veterinarian clinic, department store or restaurant, it is still a concern to many who feel the security they work so hard to maintain has been taken out of their hands by Wilson’s determination to post public records on the Internet.

I also felt, and still do, that the focus on Wilson’s dispersal of this information reeks of “politics” and that scrutiny should have been done immediately after all of the reporters in the county, myself included, did big huge hoopla stories on the progressive technological advances being made by Wilson by putting these records on the web. My feeling is that if the action compromised the safety and security of thousands of local residents, someone should have made an outcry a long time ago. So, now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and local citizens are pulling up sensitive information they don’t want to be in the hands of a bad guy, what can be done?

Very little. Like our diligent reader, citizens can get fraud protection for their credit cards and have a legal plan that includes some type of fraud protection. But that is just about all that can be done because, when the records were posted for public viewing and Wilson sold the records, which is not only legal but required by the laws that govern public information and disclosure, the proverbial damage was done and nothing can be done to “take it back.” If any of those records do ultimately fall into the hands of someone with criminal intent, our reader pointed out, the citizen will at least know the probable source of the leak that is behind any unscrupulous or illegal actions. That is little consolation to someone who is the victim of identity theft, but that is where we stand today.

And while I have fussed about the focus on Wilson being political, the fact that she has now removed the probate records from the Internet while she awaits an opinion from the Attorney General on the legality of redacting sensitive information could be construed as political itself. And, the fact that this request to the Attorney General was made in December could be construed as political as well.

So, there you have it. Wilson is not the only public official in the state who has made life easier for the attorneys, reporters, private citizens and, yes, the criminals—to access records in the privacy of their homes and offices. And while it is really nice to be able to look up information on the Internet without fighting the traffic, having to take a day off from work to go to the courthouse during business hours and to spend all those extra hours researching the information inside the courthouse, it does have a downside. And that, believe a growing number of local citizens, is a threat to anyone who has done business or filed a court case in the county.

It is now up to the people that Wilson serves who will go to the polls in just a few short weeks. It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out at the polls. On one hand, we have a public official who some fervently believe has violated the trust of the public she serves but is personable, dedicated and has worked diligently to streamline her office and cater to the needs of the public. On the other hand, we have a virtual unknown candidate who has told reporters she is running for the office only because of the public information snafu. Will Wilson’s efforts and apparent diligence prevail? Or, will voters be concerned enough over the public information release to vote Wilson out and an unknown in?

We will know in short order. At least for the time being, I personally have covered this issue far more than I intended to do, so now it is up to our readers/voters to do what they think is right based on the information at hand.

As our outspoken reader said to me “It is up to each of us, individually, to practice due diligence in taking steps to protect ourselves in today’s environment and having someone take that out of your hands is devastating.”


Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  September 07, 2006