It’s a given that anything Gov. Nikki Haley’s likely Democratic opponent says can be construed as being at least partially motivated by politics. Nonetheless, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, raises disconcerting questions about the still-secret report on the nation’s largest hacking of a state agency.
Sheheen introduced a budget amendment last week that would have forced Haley to release details from an official report on how the personal data of millions of taxpayers was stolen in 2012. Sheheen said that while it might be understandable to withhold information for a few months while security improvements were being installed and law enforcement agencies were investigating, 20 months is too long to sit on the report.
Sheheen’s amendment was thrown out on a technicality. And some Republicans accused the senator of playing politics with a matter still under investigation.
Both the U.S. Secret Service and the State Law Enforcement Division still are investigating the hacking incident, and SLED Chief Mark Keel said disclosing the details would hurt their efforts. But Sheheen suggested that “law enforcement tends to want to keep things secret more than elected leaders should follow.”
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, supporting Sheheen’s proposal, said the public needs to know the details to determine whether the state is wasting nearly $50 million on credit monitoring. Hutto raised the bizarre possibility that the federal government already has paid a ransom to the hacker to return the stolen data, so taxpayers’ personal information is safe and the state shouldn’t pay another $8.5 million this year and millions more in subsequent years for credit protection services.
So far, the only version of the report to which the public has been given access is the summary of the findings Haley released in 2012, a month after the hacking incident was revealed. Haley has an arrangement now in which legislators can read a copy of the entire report – but only if they sign an agreement not to discuss the details afterward.
Neither Sheheen nor Hutto has read the report because, they say, they want to be able to continue commenting on it publicly.
No one wants to see the investigation of this case jeopardized. At the same time, though, the public shouldn’t have to rely solely on Haley’s summary of the report when she could have a personal interest in keeping the details under wraps – at least until after the November elections.
One solution might be to allow the Legislature to appoint a bipartisan commission to read the report and provide the public with pertinent details. The panel could exclude any information that, if made public, might undermine the investigations by SLED or the Secret Service.
We would like to know if there is any truth to the rumor that the federal government has paid off the hackers and the personal information of millions of citizens is safe. We’d like to know if further monitoring of that information is necessary. We’d like to know a lot of things, including who the hackers are.
If those and other details are in the report and can be safely shared with the public, lawmakers should find a reasonable way to do so.