Documents from the state of Georgia containing sensitive personal information for hundreds of people were found completely intact at an Aiken County landfill last week, despite laws mandating the records must be destroyed.
An anonymous tip was received by the Aiken Standard on Thursday, Jan. 23, where the tipster said it seemed documents from the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services were at the Barden C&D Landfill off Connector Road in Graniteville.
Boxes and boxes of red file folders containing sensitive information – including Social Security numbers, names and birthdays of both children and adults – were discovered strewn across one portion of the landfill, alongside roofing materials, yard waste and more.
The documents included Child Protective Services intake reports, forensic evaluation reports and documents from the division’s internal data system.
“The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services was recently made aware of the improper disposal of confidential files,” wrote Chris Hempfling, deputy division director and general counsel, in an email statement to the Aiken Standard on Monday.
“At this time, the Division is evaluating the situation and working to ensure all information contained within any files is protected," the statement reads. "It is the Division's obligation to protect the information of the families we serve, and we are working to resolve this incident as quickly as possible. We'd like to thank local officials for quickly bringing this incident to our attention.”
It is not immediately clear who is responsible for the file dump.
The Department of Human Services Information Security Guidelines, provided by the department, states that media containing sensitive information “should be disposed of by secure incineration or shredding.”
The documents have since been retrieved from the landfill, according to Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian.
“The County did become aware of some materials that were placed in the landfill from the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services in Augusta,” Killian wrote in an email Monday.
“We immediately notified that agency of the issue, and they promptly began retrieving those documents using the company the agency hired to dispose of them,” Killian wrote.
He said the disposal company has a valid permit to use the county’s landfill, and the material it brought was permitted to be disposed of in the landfill, “though we would not knowingly accept material from outside Aiken County.”
Killian added that once county officials became aware of what the material was, it was clear they needed to notify the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and let the agency handle it.
The closest Georgia Division of Family and Children Services offices to Aiken County are in Augusta, Waynesboro, Appling and Thomson.
Statewide in Georgia, any records designated confidential “shall be destroyed in such a manner that they cannot be read, interpreted, or reconstructed,” according to the Official Code of Georgia.
In South Carolina, the Family and Personal Identifying Information Privacy Protection chapter of the code of laws provides for the protection of personal information.
“When a public body disposes of a record that contains personal identifying information of an individual, the body shall modify, by shredding, erasing, or other means, the personal identifying information to make it unreadable or undecipherable,” the South Carolina law states.