(RepublicanInformer.com)- Leaked emails, which were obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reveal how state officials in Missouri planned to thank the newspaper for revealing a major security flaw in its government website but ultimately chose to threaten criminal charges instead.
Governor Mike Parson recently threatened criminal charges against a journalist who accessed the HTML source code of a Missouri state government website, something which any website user can easily access through a web browser. It’s not illegal and it’s not an infringement of privacy, but it does reveal much of the coding that makes the website appear the way it does to users.
Journalist Josh Renaud then discovered that the social security numbers of teachers had been made available in this public code, on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary education website. The social security numbers weren’t available on the website itself but were easy to find for anybody familiar with source codes.
The Post-Dispatch then alerted the department about the issue before running the story, and said that they would only publish the story after the issue was fixed – so as to avoid people later visiting the website and finding the numbers.
But according to newly-obtained emails, which you can read here, Parson threatened to investigate the journalist for hacking – something he categorically didn’t do.
“We are coordinating state resources to respond and utilize all legal methods available,” Parson said, before adding that his administration had notified the Cole County prosecutor about the incident.
The Office of Administration then issued a press release falsely describing the journalist as a “hacker.” You can see that here.
This is important for everybody to understand. Journalists may often use underhand tactics, but this isn’t one of those times. The newspaper promised to only publish the story after the issue was addressed, and the social security numbers should never have been made available in this public code in the first place.
More evidence you can’t trust government to get much right.