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Protecting Texans’ Identities:
The Challenges of Securing Privacy in Transparent Government

December 1, 2010

The Honorable Robert L. Duncan
State Senator, District 28
Texas Senate
1500 Broadway St., Suite 902
Lubbock, Texas 79401-3108

Dear Senator Duncan:

Texans have long cherished their right to be left alone. Few things are more precious to us than having our privacy respected and protected. In today’s technological world, where data takes the form of bits and bytes, it is increasingly important that government agencies be diligent in ensuring that a citizen’s personally identifiable information is not compromised.

This report examines the volume and types of personal information that Texas state government agencies collect, maintain and – in some cases – are authorized to disclose and sell.

Identity theft is a sad reality of modern life, and criminals can piece together seemingly insignificant bits of information to create a bigger picture that could place a citizen’s finances, credit score or even personal safety in jeopardy.

Only two other states have a higher per capita identity theft complaint rate than Texas. Three South Texas cities – Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville – lead the nation in identity theft complaints. Of course, complaints are only filed when a citizen suspects there is a problem; many instances of identity theft may go undetected by the victims for months or years before the economic costs mount and become apparent.

In recent years, we’ve brought greater transparency and openness to Texas state government. And through our Leadership Circle program, the Comptroller’s office is encouraging local governments throughout the state to follow suit and provide their constituents greater and easier access to their communities’ financial and budgetary reports. These efforts build upon the strong Open Records/Freedom of Information laws we have in Texas that give our citizens the ability to monitor their government and hold it accountable. Informed citizens make our government stronger. We see that every day.

But when the public’s right to know the business of its government threatens to reveal personally identifiable information, it creates a tension that must be acknowledged and addressed. It is the responsibility of government officials and concerned citizens alike to work together to strike the right balance between these competing concerns.

I am hopeful that this report will contribute to the discussion and lead to solutions that will keep Texas government open and transparent, while ensuring that our citizens’ personally identifiable information is protected.

Sincerely,

Susan Combs

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