The Indiana attorney general’s office is looking into two companies that posted personal information about 44,000 low-income Americans who applied for a federal program that provides discount Internet and phone service.
TerraCom and its affiliate, YourTel America, leaked the Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personal information of participants in the Lifeline program. The program was nicknamed the “Obamaphone” during the 2012 election even though it was actually started by President Reagan.
Indiana had the highest number of applicants for the program, 17,400. Residents of at least 26 states were affected by the security breach. The companies’ error also led to photos of food-stamp cards, driver’s licenses, tax records, pay stubs and parole letters becoming accessible online.
Scripps Howard News Service alerted the companies about the mistake after it allegedly found the records by doing a “simple” Google search. According to a TerraCom attorney, the records were being stored by Call Centers India.
The companies also dispute that Scripps uncovered the error via a simple search. Dale Schmick, chief operating officer of TerraCom and YourTel America, said Scripps used "sophisticated computer techniques and non-public information to view and download the personal information of applicants."
The Federal Communications Commission, which runs the Obamaphone program, acknowledged it was aware of the situation. The FCC also noted that a single privacy violation could cost a company as much as $1.5 million, Fox News reported.
Lifeline was already rocked by scandal when wireless companies began signing up people for the program who’d never applied or were dead. They were reportedly being reimbursed as much as $34.25 a line per month. As a response to this activity, the FCC tightened the guidelines of the program last year.
The program cost $2.2 billion in 2012 and is funded through a $2.73 surcharge on monthly phone bills.