The Privacy of Joe the Plumber
In 1997, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined employees who, out of curiosity, were looking up tax returns of famous people to see who made how much income. The IRS fired 23 employees, disciplined 349, and provided counseling for 472. During the 2008 election, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services ordered employees to look up the child support payment record of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (Joe the Plumber), a man who had raised a controversial issue to then-candidate Barack Obama. Helen Jones-Kelley, the director, was a donor to the Obama campaign. Employees in the office complained about the search, and the director said, "Our practice is when someone is thrust quickly into the public spotlight, we often take a look." The Ohio
Inspector General investigated the use of state computers for the search.
Is this practice so bad? What is wrong with just looking at data accessible at work? Why are we concerned about selective research about private citizens? Does it matter that the information was not released to the public?
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