Governor of Missouri Accuses Reporter of Hacking State Website

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Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri has asked for a transgression probe of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch newsman who told the authorities that a website revealed teachers’ Social Security numbers.

The erstwhile  gathering  of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch successful  Missouri. The paper  notified the teachers’ national   and waited 2  days until the authorities   fixed a information    contented   connected  a website earlier  publishing an nonfiction  astir  it.
Credit...Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Oct. 15, 2021, 5:03 p.m. ET

A newsman astatine The St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week alerted Missouri acquisition officials that a authorities website that lists teachers’ names and certification presumption had a flaw: The leafage made the teachers’ Social Security numbers easy available.

The Post-Dispatch besides notified the teachers’ national and waited 2 days until the authorities had fixed the occupation earlier publishing an article connected Thursday revealing the information problem.

To many, it looked similar the benignant of watchdog reporting that galore quality organizations see the hallmark of liable journalism. But Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri had a antithetic view.

At a quality league connected Thursday, helium said that helium had asked prosecutors and the State Highway Patrol to analyse the reporter, whom helium accused of carrying retired a “hack” of teachers’ backstage information.

“This idiosyncratic is not a victim,” Mr. Parson said astatine the quality conference, without identifying the newsman oregon The Post-Dispatch. “They were acting against a authorities bureau to compromise teachers’ idiosyncratic accusation successful an effort to embarrass the authorities and merchantability headlines for their quality outlet.”

He added, “We volition not fto this transgression against Missouri teachers spell unpunished.”

The announcement infuriated reporters, other quality organizations and media rights groups, who said the newsman was being threatened with a transgression probe for doing his job.

“The paper and the newsman did thing wrong,” said Mark Maassen, enforcement manager of the Missouri Press Association. “It’s not uncommon for elected officials to blasted the media for instances similar this. But, successful this case, The Post-Dispatch and their newsman should beryllium applauded for uncovering a superior flaw and past alerting the authorities agency.”

Captain John Hotz, a spokesperson for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said the bureau was “investigating the imaginable unauthorized entree to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data.” He declined to remark further.

Locke Thompson, the prosecuting lawyer for Cole County, said that his bureau would analyse the findings of the State Highway Patrol.

“Once the probe is complete, I volition reappraisal the grounds and find whether transgression charges are appropriate,” helium said.

In a statement, Ian Caso, the president and steadfast of The Post-Dispatch, said that helium was “grateful” for the enactment of Josh Renaud, a quality decorator and developer who broke the communicative astir the problems with the website, which is tally by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“I deliberation helium should beryllium commended for his enactment and consciousness of duty,” Mr. Caso said. “We are amazed and disappointed astatine the governor’s effect and deflection.”

Joe Martineau, a lawyer for the newspaper, said it was “unfounded” for acquisition officials to deflect the failures of their machine strategy by coating Mr. Renaud’s reporting arsenic a hack.

“A hacker is idiosyncratic who subverts machine information with malicious oregon transgression intent,” helium said. “Here, determination was nary breach of immoderate firewall oregon information and surely nary malicious intent.”

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Credit...Shelly Yang/The Kansas City Star, via Associated Press

The Post-Dispatch said the Social Security numbers for teachers, administrators and counselors were “present” successful the HTML root codification of the publically disposable pages of the website. The root codification for a web leafage tin typically beryllium recovered by right-clicking connected it and scrolling down to “view leafage source.”

Mr. Parson, a Republican, said that it was “unlawful to entree encoded information and systems successful bid to analyse different people’s idiosyncratic information.”

He cited a state law that said a hacker was anyone who gained unauthorized entree to accusation oregon content. He said the newsman had nary authorization to “convert oregon decode” the accusation connected the website.

“This was intelligibly a hack,” Mr. Parson said, adding that the authorities would analyse the flaws that were uncovered successful the system.

Legal observers said they were perplexed by Mr. Parson’s mentation of what constituted a hack.

Frank Bowman, a prof of instrumentality astatine the University of Missouri School of Law, said that it was hard to ideate the prosecution of a newsman who alerted authorities officials to accusation helium discovered by examining a publically disposable website.

The chances of prosecutors going aft Mr. Renaud, the reporter, “are betwixt zero and zero,” Professor Bowman said. “They’re not going to embarrass themselves similar this.”

Tony Lovasco, a Republican authorities representative with a nonrecreational inheritance successful computers, said the governor’s announcement showed “a cardinal misunderstanding of some web exertion and manufacture modular procedures for reporting information vulnerabilities.”

“Journalists responsibly sounding an alarm connected information privateness is not transgression hacking,” he said connected Twitter.

Teachers successful the authorities were upset to larn astir the flaws successful the system, said Byron Clemens, spokesperson for the section section of the American Federation of Teachers, St. Louis Local 420. They person been advised to get a transcript of their recognition reports to marque definite their accusation has not been compromised.

“It’s a shame that the politician is trying to politicize what was a nationalist service,” Mr. Clemens said, referring to The Post-Dispatch story.

Sandra Davidson, a prof astatine the Missouri School of Journalism, said that portion she was unnerved by the governor’s assertive response, she said it mightiness pb to much dogged reporting.

“Would it truthful infuriate reporters, editors and publishers that the politician would marque this benignant of menace that it would, successful fact, embolden the journalists?” Professor Davidson asked.

On Friday, The Post-Dispatch continued to travel the story.

It published another portion connected the subject — this 1 examining the “massive machine shortcomings” plaguing the State of Missouri.

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