Courtesy: Dona Ana County

Dona Ana County Clerk’s Office sets new privacy safeguards

Acting on the recommendations of a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Panel, the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office has begun implementing a series of new steps designed to enhance the security of sensitive information belonging to registered voters in Doña Ana County.

The panel was convened after the June arrests of a Clerk’s Office employee on various charges related to the theft of registered voters’ names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth for illegal private gain. Three others were arrested for improperly notarizing documents.

            County Clerk Lynn J. Ellins said the newly implemented policies are as follows:

  1. Employees may only work outside of regular office hours if a member of the leadership team is present to monitor their activities.
  2. Paper records containing sensitive information will be under lock and key at all times they are not needed for specific and pre-approved work-related reasons. Only selected members of the leadership team will have access to the keys.

In addition to the two new policies, Ellins said the state vendor responsible for the Voter Registration Electronic Management System has provided an option to mask Social Security numbers from screens showing search results.

 “We believe the steps we’ve taken establish Doña Ana County as a leader in the state in terms of providing the most protection possible for keeping identities safe going forward,” Ellins said. “We will continue to work with the prosecutors to ensure that the former employees who betrayed the public trust are held accountable. The new steps are a giant step toward ensuring that nothing like this ever occurs in this office again.”

Ellins said he also is implementing a rigorous annual training program related to ethics, safe practices and keeping the public trust.

“We have modeled our training going forward on both the hospital and banking industries,” Ellins said. “Each employee will undergo the training, and each year, each employee will sign an acknowledgment of the laws and ethical principles that apply to this office as a condition of employment.”

Ellins said he is working with the Doña Ana County Information Technology Department to upgrade video surveillance and workplace-monitoring systems, and a new camera will be positioned to monitor access to the voter-registration documents that are kept on file.

Ellins said he is hopeful other clerks’ offices across the state will adopt similar models.

“I want to thank the individuals who gave their time, energy and ideas to help us develop these enhanced safeguards,” Ellins said. “The expertise and advice of Russell Allen, Dr. Paul Deason, Gwendolyn Hanson, John Hummer and John Muñoz was invaluable, frank and straightforward. They have produced a detailed report that we will reference frequently as we move forward. We’ll also share the document with other New Mexico county clerks and the Secretary of State’s Office to continue the conversation about vulnerabilities that still need to be evaluated at a broader level than just our office.”

Highlights of the committee’s report were presented today to the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners, and copies of the full report are now available to the media and the general public, Ellins said, adding that the report will be added to the county’s website soon.

Author: Dona Ana County