Cybersecurity and ethics questions surround computer files found in Lancaster County office | Local News

ByPhyllis R. Edwards

Jul 26, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Dozens of private documents belonging to Lancaster County’s major attorney – like files linked to nearby Republican Occasion committees – have been learned on a county governing administration pc network earlier this yr, increasing issues about no matter whether she executed marketing campaign or other outside operate making use of taxpayer time or resources.

The data files belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who final 12 months was appointed county solicitor. Pfursich stated she unintentionally transferred the documents on to the county’s laptop network when she used a private thumb drive in July 2021 to transfer some get the job done-relevant data files as she transitioned into her new position as solicitor.

LNP | LancasterOnline obtained copies of the 85 or so documents in problem. They involve 55 documents similar to Pfursich’s political get the job done with the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at least 13 data files connected to outdoors lawful do the job Pfursich performed for the duration of several years she was serving as clerk of courts, and 11 information that were being own in character, like her children’s report playing cards. The character of a several other information — such as a notice for a winter donation drive — is unclear.

At the very same time she served as clerk of courts, Pfursich represented personal lawful purchasers on the facet. She’s also been a longtime chief in the local Republican Occasion, serving as chair of the Hempfield Space Republican Committee due to the fact 2016.

The clerk of courts is an elected position. Elected officials like the clerk are permitted to hold outside positions even though serving in business. But Pennsylvania’s General public Officers and Staff members Ethics Act bars elected officials from making use of their place of work for “personal economical achieve.” And the Pennsylvania Condition Ethics Commission, which investigates ethics complaints, has identified conducting marketing campaign function and private perform with county means, these types of as a laptop or computer or telephone, to qualify as a sort of monetary achieve.

The fee also has to discover that the action was more than a small attain. It observed in 2017 that a Beaver County commissioner, Joe Spanik, had violated the Ethics Act by directing his secretary at the county to do campaign do the job for his re-election. She employed county office machines and time she was on the clock to do it.

The commission calculated she expended about 17 hrs undertaking the do the job, valued at a minimal of $415, based mostly on her spend rate. He also used notary products and services from the county valued at $180. Spanik recognized an agreement with the commission to fork out $1,000, most of which went to Beaver County.

Data files claimed

The political and private data files belonging to Pfursich were being initially talked over in community at a June board of commissioners assembly when Ron Harper, Jr., a Rapho Township guy, claimed he had unearthed evidence that Pfursich had misused her office as clerk of courts. Harper has labored equally independently and with Pennsylvania Republicans as an opposition researcher and investigator of political officers.

Internally, the presence of individual and political paperwork on the clerk of courts community was first documented to human methods director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo published by Pfursich’s successor, Mary Anater. Trescot was notified, Anater explained, for the reason that he is her office’s designated main place of speak to with the total county board of commissioners.

Anater said workforce in the workplace were being aware of the information but did not quickly notify her to them until quite a few months into her tenure, in March. “When team considerations had been eventually elevated with me, I reviewed the documents, identified they ended up in opposition to county policy” and claimed them, she said.

Pfursich claimed she was unaware throughout that period that the data files, some which contained private details of lawful clients, were obtainable in a shared county computer system community.

“In hindsight, I should really have applied a refreshing, new thumb drive to keep away from any accidental transfer of information,” Pfursich claimed. “However, I have in no way used county computers or county resources for political applications.”

Pfursich presented LNP | LancasterOnline with an internal memo from the county IT director, Steven Clement, that reveals he found it most likely her transfer of own files to the county’s community was accidental.

“The knowledge in problem was easily identifiable as getting personal in character, probable the outcome of an accidental thumb generate imprint, and not instantly deleted throughout the standard wiping of info upon prior employees’ changeover from the position,” Clement claimed in an April 1 memo to the county’s top administrator, chief clerk Lawrence George who oversees the county’s different departments, which includes IT and human sources.

For each George’s path, IT staff members taken off the information from the shared travel and forwarded them to the chief clerk for storage on a county push tied to his office, he instructed LNP | LancasterOnline. Storing the documents on a tough travel prevented any one with access to the county network drive from accessing them.

But he took no added measures to glance even further into the issue or refer it to anyone else – whether or not an outside legal professional or other investigative entire body – and George reported he didn’t contemplate regardless of whether the existence of the files called for further inquiry.

“The initially aim was to take away all the information that was thought available to someone it must not have been accessible to, and my preliminary considered wasn’t truly, ‘Oh, is that likely to taint any kind of investigation that could need to have to comply with?’” George claimed.

Ethical concerns

Pfursich’s account of how the files wound up in the county network and the subsequent reaction by George and other individuals raises concerns about the county’s cybersecurity policies and protocols, as perfectly as how it handles potential ethics issues involving elected officers.

Pat Christmas, policy director at the Philadelphia-primarily based excellent government team Committee of Seventy, claimed it’s unclear, primarily based on a description of the situation, whether or not the make any difference has ethics implications or signifies some variety of breakdown in the county’s HR protocols.

If this was simply a oversight by Pfursich, Xmas mentioned, county officials could want to evaluate the onboarding method for county personnel.

“Maybe it wants to be sharpened up to stay clear of this sort of detail happening in the potential, maybe education close to this, as effectively as for the individuals who would administer this kind of a policy,” he reported.

The matter justifies more inquiry, Christmas stated. The community deserves assurance its elected officials are keeping over board, he stated, specially in an era when religion and trust in govt are at all-time lows.

“Even reasonably minimal infractions or possible violations can dent that belief, so that is why, substantively, and with regard to notion, I think these problems issue,” Xmas explained.

George called the situation around Pfursich’s information “unprecedented.”

“Thankfully, this does not appear up very generally. In reality, I’m not conscious of any instance undoubtedly in my occupation,” George claimed. But he acknowledged the county should really have clearer treatments for comparable situations.

In an e-mail, Trescot, the Democratic commissioner, said he would guidance owning a improved defined ind
uce for reviewing likely ethics matters and making recommendations for motion.

Republican commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, who have political ties to Pfursich and voted for her appointment to solicitor in July 2021 more than objections from the Democratic commissioner at the time, Craig Lehman, did not reply to the exact thoughts.

Prior to becoming 1st elected as clerk of courts in 2015, Pfursich labored as assistant county solicitor.

Current policy

As a result of an open up data request, LNP | LancasterOnline attained a copy of Lancaster County’s IT safety coverage. Final up-to-date in June 2021, it does not expressly forbid consumers of the county technique from using outdoors thumb drives or putting county files on to a personalized system, as Pfursich explained was her intention.

It does say that users “should retail outlet work documents and details on cloud-foundation storage, relatively than on product hard drives or USB storage gadgets, as cloud-centered storage gives much better security than the alternatives.” They also require to guarantee people storage gadgets are scanned for viruses just before remaining made use of.

LNP | LancasterOnline attained Lancaster County’s IT protection policy by means of an open data request.

Other language in the coverage seems to exempt elected officials from the guidelines employed staff have to follow. The coverage language expressly states that it applies to “all folks with granted licensed accessibility,” but an asterisked observe suggests elected officers applying the method “are liable for their individual steps.”

Trescot reported the coverage relating to elected officials relates to the point that they are not county workforce. “The county government does not employ or hearth elected officials,” he mentioned.

Working with formal sources for campaign perform can run afoul of Pennsylvania’s “theft of services” statute. But a prosecution less than that statute would very likely demand proof of a persistent pattern of employing county resources for non-official business.

George told LNP | LancasterOnline that his reaction adopted county procedures, but it created an unintended consequence of dropping file data that could’ve been section of a further inquiry.

Clement, the county IT director, did not respond to a contact or e-mail pertaining to that policy and irrespective of whether deleting the documents from a shared drive eliminated the capacity to do a deeper forensic assessment of how and when the own data files wound up on the county network.

An incapability to assessment the background of computer exercise by county officers would indicate important procedure deficiencies, reported Daniel Castro of the Info Technological know-how and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., assume tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privateness issues.

IT devices have appear to count on “audit logs” to fight viruses and ransomware assaults, Castro said. The logs keep observe of who accessed what file or method and when, and what they did with it, Castro said.

And to permit customers to copy or transfer county documents to a system outside the IT method, or at all, was also questionable, Castro mentioned.

“These are officers for whom chain of custody truly issues – for files, who has entry to issues, you want potent audit logs. This all just variety of implies very poor IT in common and IT protection,” Castro claimed. “That is sort of troubling.”

Staff members author Carter Walker contributed to this story.

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