When someone adopts a homeless animal or redeems a lost pet from a Los Angeles City animal shelter, shouldn’t they expect that General Manager Brenda Barnette is making every effort to assure the personal information required by this municipal agency--including a California driver’s license—willl never be shared with private companies and/or sold to marketing lists?
When you license your dog, relinquish an animal, bring in a stray, get a spay/neuter voucher. or microchip a pet, shouldn’t you feel confident that any identification, financial documents, banking or credit card information is absolutely secure?
Up to now, this has not been a worry because Los Angeles Animal Services has maintained its confidential data on a City server, using the highly specialized Chameleon shelter-software system. Thus far, there has never been a report of theft of any data that residents must share in order to avail themselves of municipal services or conduct business with the department.
That could soon change if Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette gets her way. Private citizens, LAAS employees, veterinarians, New Hope animal-rescue organizations, interfacing agencies, public/elected officials, celebrities, and donors could soon find that their personal and financial information is in a “cloud.”
At the April 24, 2012 meeting of the Animal Services Commission, the last item by GM Barnette (who claims to know little about computer systems) was approval of the release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for: “…the selection of a contractor to provide a new animal-data management system; and…report back to the Board on the contractor selected based on the recommendations of the [in-house] evaluation panel.”
Commissioner Kathleen Riordan, daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan, intensely questioned whether this issue was researched to determine and address any alleged deficits in the current Chameleon system--used nationally by public and private animal shelters because of its design capacity, security and interface capabilities. Commissioner Riordan also expressed repeated concerns for cybersecurity. After discussion, reviewing a written objection and allowing one-minute per person of public input, the Animal Services Commission continued the matter until May 22.
At that second meeting, a full-blown draft RFP was presented. GM Brenda Barnette and Deputy Jim Bickhart of Mayor Villaraigosa’s office pursued with relentless insistence that this is the time to expend money the City supposedly doesn’t have to replace the current system which works effectively despite management failures and data-input discrepancies recently pointed out in a City Controller’s audit.
There are no details of what advantages or additional benefits the proposed new system would provide and no specifications to insure how confidential City records and individual-identity information will be encrypted, coded, stored or protected. The entire draft RFP can be read at: http://www.laanimalservices.
NEW ANIMAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND A $199 MILLION CITY DEFICIT IN 2013?
GM.Barnette has voiced only two complaints about Chameleon: (1) only one LAAS administrative employee has training to create a “crystal” report. (Is this a system fault or a management failure?) And (2) she accused the Chameleon system of allowing employees to change data without logging in—which was disputed by all who use Chameleon.
The report prepared by Barnette on April 24 explains that the Department has a 12-year investment in Chameleon shelter software, which efficiently manages and tracks all usual and unique data, including impounds, adoptions and veterinary care, spay/neuter, incoming calls, animal inventory, rescue partners, adoptions, citations, humane investigations, and licensing. The report states, “This information resides on a server.”
As her first requirement for a proposed replacement, Ms. Barnette writes that the new system should offer, “Web-based” or “cloud” computing, to allow “anywhere access to shelter database information for both administrative and field staff.” Most City departments do not allow this type of access to confidential databases nor does the City give up ownership of its data, which is often part of the deal in cloud-based computing. Doesn’t this also heighten the risk for unauthorized access to this same data by “hackers?” Glaringly missing from Ms. Barnette’s new system requirements are heightened security features.
According to GM Barnette and Mayoral Deputy Bickhart, no further research regarding L.A. Animal Services needs is required prior to issuing a Request for Proposals.They plan to decide what the Department needs based upon what is offered by proposers!
WAS BARNETTE’S ORIGINAL PROPOSAL“TAILORED” TO LIMIT COMPETITION?
Barnette also writes in her April 24 report that “the Department met with representatives of only one company, PetPoint, to discuss their system….” She does not mention in the report that she had any prior knowledge of this company.
However, her “Proposed Scope of Work” states “The new animal data management system proposal should offer: “..value-added services including, but not limited to, pet insurance and microchipping.”
In reviewing Ms. Barnette’s list of the three companies most likely to become bidders, it appears that PetPoint is the only one that offers the particular “value-added services” she mentions. Ms. Barnette’s report can be read at http://www.laanimalservices.
EVEN THE APPEARANCE OF A CONFLICT OF INTEREST MUST BE AVOIDED
Nothing in the information offered in this article is intended as a commentary on Canadian-based PetPoint or the quality or integrity of any of its staff or services. The company is dicussed only because GM Brenda Barnette described it in her April 24 Board report. There is no indication on its website that PetPoint is designed for or experienced in maintaining large governmental databases. www.petpoint.org
In an April 4, 2012, article entitled, Pethealth Inc. Enters Data Report Agreement with Best Friends Animal Society, Yahoo Finance reports that, “…Best Friends Animal Society has become the largest subscriber to its industry-leading PetPoint Reports.”
The press release describes that, “Under the terms of the data report agreement, Pethealth has provided Best Friends Animal Society with state and regional reports on animal intakes and outcomes from 2009 thrugh 2011 in exchange for approximately $440,000. The reports are based largely on the Company’s monthly PetPoint Report…B est Friends also has an option for 2012 reports at an additional cost of approximately $250,000.”
“Pethealth is the leading aggregator of North American shelter data through the provision of its industry-leading animal management software application, Petpoint…As a hosted solution, the Company is able to aggregate data from all its licensed users. The Pet Point application is provided free of charge to those AWO’s [animal welfare organizations] using the Company’s 24PetWatch microchip program and promoting its ShelterCare pet insurance program.”
A March 20, 2011, Compare report states: “ It was announced last week that the Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah was joining with Pet Health Inc. to offer the Best Friends Insurance Program. This program will offer several different insurance packages designed to meets its member's needs. “Pet Health Inc. is the largest pet insurance provider in America and it also is involved with RFID mircochips as well.
“Gregory Castle, the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, says that this partnership was a long time coming and it is a mutually beneficial partnership.”http://www.compare-pet-
Shouldn’t LAAS GM Brenda Barnette have disclosed in her report any financial/business connection between PetPoint and Best Friends Animal Society? Ms. Barnette is on the Steering Committee of Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” program, which was formerly an affiliate and now has merged with Best Friends Animal Society, according to an ABC4 News report. http://www.abc4.com/content/
GM Barnette was instrumental in promoting and obtaining for Best Friends Animal Society the free use of the entire $19-million Northeast Valley Animal Shelter (with utilities included,) a contract she now oversees/monitors.
She also admitted under questioning at the May 22 Commission meeting that PetPoint was the company that handled the data of Seattle Humane Society when Barnette was Director
Whether or not there is a personal conflict of interest, shouldn’t this information have been disclosed to the Commission, the public, and other bidders by Ms. Barnette as a matter of transparency?.
PET POINT’s “FREE” SERVICE ACCORDING TO ITS WEBSITE:
“FREE to use and able to reduce your operating costs!
“PetPoint is FREE to organizations using the 24PetWatch microchip and lost pet recovery program. Organizations using PetPoint and 24PetWatch can also take advantage of Pethealth's ShelterCare Insurance program, the most widely used pet health insurance program within the shelter community.
“PetPoint can be acquired and used without cost by shelters and rescues participating in both the ShelterCare Insurance and 24PetWatch Microchip programs. Organizations running PetPoint experience huge annual savings! As an example, a “shelter adopting approximately 4,000 pets annually can achieve operational savings in excess of $50,000 per year* by running all three Pethealth programs. “No expensive hardware, software or IT specialists required!”
“Using the Microsoft.net framework, this web-hosted application is the only program of its kind currently available! PetPoint eliminates the need for you to purchase and maintain expensive hardware like a file server and software, data backup systems, and network cabling. A high-speed internet connection, computer, and printer are all that is needed to use PetPoint!”
IF IT IS “FREE,” HOW DOES PET POINT STAY IN BUSINESS?
The program is “free’ to the agency, but allows the sale of pet insurance, possibly pet medications and other items, according to the website.
Pet Point's “free” price deals apparently only accompany contracts “bundles” with at least microchips. (LAAS is coincidentally just releasing its microchip RFP also.)
FROM THEIR WEBSITE - What will PetPoint cost?
“There are no fees associated with PetPoint. No purchase fee! No installation fee! No monthly or annual service or licensing fees!
“Any U.S. or Canadian animal welfare organization can obtain and use PetPoint free of charge by doing both of the following:
1. Promote the ShelterCare insurance program to all canine and feline adopters.
2. Implement the 24PetWatch Microchip Recovery program. 24PetWatch (link) provides a perfectly compatible, lower cost microchip and no registration fee.
“Both the ShelterCare and 24PetWatch programs have been integrated into PetPoint for seamless administration. At the time the animal is adopted, PetPoint will automatically activate the ShelterCare insurance gift and register the 24PetWatch microchip without delay and without the use of cumbersome paper forms.
“Data acquired through PetPoint is used by the Pethealth family of companies as needed for administration of Pethealth programs. Such programs include ShelterCare and 24PetWatch.” http://www.petpoint.com/faq.
IS THIS AN ADVISABLE ARRANGEMENT FOR A CITY AGENCY?
If a contract of this nature were awarded, would this also imply a City endorsement of a firm located in Canada and its solicitations to Los Angeles pet owners? Would the City then become liable for the actions of of a private company in regard to such activities?
PETFINDER ANNOUNCES PETPOINT'S POLICY CHANGE
Petfinder.com describes itself as the #1 website in the Pets and Animals space with 5.2 million unique visitors (potential adopters) visiting the web site each month to see the photos of homeless/rescued animals all over the country. This announcement is on their website:
“Pethealth Inc. has announced that it is refusing to continue to provide shelters' adoptable pet data from the PetPoint management system automatically to Petfinder.com unless it can charge for pet data or embed advertisements….Of the 9 shelter pet management vendors with whom Petfinder has worked to set up the automatic import of pet data, it is only Pethealth taking this drastic step, citing a desire to generate more revenue for their company.”
“Petfinder shelter and rescue group members currently using the PetPoint system have told us that they are surprised and upset by this turn of events, particularly since a selling point used by Pethealth in gaining customers was that they would provide a free import of pet data to Petfinder.com, a tool upon which shelters rely for adoption promotion.” http://www.petfinder.com/
Technology changes that involve transferring confidential records and how they are handled contain a degree of irreversibility. Los Angeles Animal Services must carefully consider how it conducts the virtual aspect of any function—let alone it’s entire database--because it has an immediate impact on the safety of animals and humans citywide, as well as, the possibility of subjecting the City to liability for breaches of security and destroying how we interface with other city agencies and emergency services, also other municipal animal shelters, individuals and private organizations.
“CLOUD”SYSTEMS OR WEB-BASED SYSTEMS FOR GOVERNMENTAL DATABASES?
Should ANY governmental agency turn over its database to a third party? Can we trust with total confidence that any outside company will/can provide security, firewalls and continual, expensive upgrades to the security and anti-hacking systems while they are storing the data base of an entire City department?
Can the City risk personal information of constituents, pet owners and others to any outside/private system in which the data could be hijacked or sold and utilized to track visitors’ Internet usage and to create profitable e-mail address lists which can be sold and/or used for the purpose of sales and soliciting business or donations.
OPINIONS OF EXPERTS ON GOVERNMENT “CLOUD” SYSTEMS
This is not just a problem with the cloud. There is a double security problem, wrote the National University of Defense Technology, “(1) Cloud computing AND (2) data held by a third party.”
An LA Times article entitled, Hacker show vulnerability of cloud computing attacks (June 17, 2011), states that “…the many attacks recently in the news reflect an uptick in hacking activity…nearly every organization is vulnerable to a growing contingent of well-trained and agile attackers who are finding security holes faster than they can be plugged.
"…data from hundreds or thousands of companies can be stored on large “cloud” servers, [thus] hackers can theoretically gain control of huge stores of information through a single attack — a process called "hyperjacking."
…And as the attacks yield increasingly lucrative financial and personal data, the crowd of outlaws is growing too…” http://articles.latimes.com/
A Los Angeles Times article on December 14, 2011, reports that the Los Angeles City Council decided NOT to move the LAPD and City Attorney’s e-mail system to Google,”saying its technology could not meet the security needs of departments including police and the city attorney's office.”http://articles.latimes.com/
L.A. Animal Services is a law-enforcement agency and it must be equally as prudent in maintaining the confidential information regarding the ownership/licensing/adoption, rabies vaccinations of pets, dog bites/attacks, veterinary records, complaints regarding dangerous/nuisance animals and criminal humane investigations and prosecutions.
CAN COSTS AND RISKS OF CHANGING THE LAAS DATA- MANAGEMENT SYSTEM BE JUSTIFIED?
Laura Beth Heisen, former LAAS Commissioner writes, “What important LAAS work for the animals and public will need to be sacrificed so each staff member can expend the significant time needed for each to learn a detailed new computer system? With dog and cat euthanasia up over 12% since Brenda Barnette was hired, the Commission should focus Ms. Barnette on solving solving the pressing problems that need solving—Chameleon is NOT one.”
Heisen also disputes GM Barnette’s claim that a February 15, 2012, 66-page Controller’s audit justifies the expensive database management change. She states, “…the audit package does not recommend replacing—or even considering replacing—Chameleon. Rather, the Controller’s audit recommendations focus on the lack of management controls—such as failing to input data and reconcile data to physical inventories.”
WOULD YOU RISK YOUR IDENTITY TO ADOPT A PET?
Cybersecurity is a major issue and we are all sensitive to it. Who will adopt a pet or license their dog if their personal information could get hacked?
Another major impediment is cost. The transition of data and the technical burden and the training—it’s HUGE! Absent any explanation that compares dollars, how can such a transition be considered, when Mayor Villaraigosa says he is laying off employees to balance the budget? Does Brenda Barnette’s proposal make sense for L.A. Animal Services, the animals and pet adopters/owners today?
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