Breach, Data Security

Coding error compromises data for thousands in Washington state

The state of Washington's Department of Social and Health Services' Economic Services Administration (ESA) is notifying up to 7,000 clients that their personal information may have been compromised after a coding error caused ESA letters to be mailed to old addresses.

How many victims? At least 2,600 and possibly up to 7,000. 

What type of personal information? Names, addresses, identification numbers, home phone numbers, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical diagnoses or disabilities, other medical conditions, chemical dependencies or treatment information, employment or earnings information, and what public assistance services the client was receiving.

What happened? A coding error caused ESA letters to be mailed to clients' previous addresses.

What was the response? The ESA has reviewed quality assurance protocols and will institute oversight of production to ensure correct data is used. All affected clients are being notified. An investigation is ongoing.

Details: The letters were mailed from Aug. 19 until the problem was corrected on Oct. 26. ESA officials learned of the incident on Oct. 22 after a high number of address corrections made by customer support prompted the IT department to investigate the cause – subsequently revealing the database coding error.

Quote: “Even a single mistake that could wrongly disclose personal information is one too many,” David Stillman, assistant secretary for ESA, said. “We will respond to this by improving our production oversight processes.”

Source:, “Private, public assistance information may have gone to wrong addresses,” Dec. 19, 2013

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