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Data for 450,000 mistakenly released

Social Security numbers on disks

The Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure has launched an internal probe and announced plans to review its protocols after the Social Security numbers of about 450,000 licensed professionals were inadvertently released.

The information was mailed last month to agencies that submitted a public records request for the names and addresses of professionals licensed by the division, said Kofi Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which oversees the division.

The division mailed 28 computer disks to 23 agencies that use the information as a marketing or promotional tool.

Officials said that 26 of the 28 disks have been recovered and that they do not believe anyone's personal information was compromised.

But the news angered at least one professional, who accused state officials of being sloppy in the age of identity theft.

The disks would normally contain only the names and addresses of individuals licensed through the Division of Professional Licensure and the Division of Health Professions Licensure.

However, the fact that the disks also included Social Security numbers was an oversight officials said was caused by a software failure during computer upgrades last month. An employee noticed the error a week later, Jones said.

Officials said the last two disks, which contain the information of 16,000 licensed professionals, are still in the mail.

"We quickly contacted the recipients and told them they had incorrect information," Jones said. "Two of them have not been received yet, but the recipients agreed to return them as soon as they receive them. We also have signed affidavits saying they didn't use them or open them."

The division normally copies disks for various marketing agencies that request the information under the state's public records law, Jones said. The disks were mailed between Sept. 11 and 18, and since then, the division has launched an internal investigation and halted the copying of disks until a review is complete.

"We are working with an information security firm to review our practices and to work with us to create a new protocol for handling sensitive personal information going forward, to make sure it cannot happen again," Jones said. "We were definitely able to mitigate any impact of the licensees by moving as quickly as we did."

Most of the recovered disks were sent to locations within the state or in New Hampshire. The two remaining disks were sent to agencies in Pennsylvania and California.

The agencies are what Jones called regular clients that have been cooperative and have requested information from the division in the past.

Thirty professions overseen by the division were affected, including nursing home administrators, public accountants, registered nurses, and veterinarians.

One affected professional said the release of information concerned him.

"It's totally inappropriate for them to be releasing Social Security numbers," said Michael Bernstein, a veterinarian at the VCA South Shore Animal Hospital. "This is licensing information that has nothing to do with marketing. The thing that's concerning is that people that have these types of records are doing sloppy work."

Division officials said that individuals concerned about their information can place a fraud alert on their credit and monitor their financial accounts for unusual activity.

Individuals can also visit or call 617-973-8100 for more information.

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