When I heard Nikki Haley was going to hold a presser this morning to call about most of our tax returns being stolen from the Department of Revenue, my first thought was to wonder whom she would blame for a failure at her agency.
As it happened, she said that no one was to blame except the hacker — whom she portrayed as some sort of unstoppable super-villain.
She could be right as far as my knowledge of such things extends, although perhaps some of y’all may have other thoughts.
Anyway, here are some highlights of what she said:
- More than 150,000 people have signed up now for the protection being offered by the state.
- We have until the end of January to sign up for the credit protection that the state is offering, and the protection will be retroactive. (I don’t know how that works, but that’s what she said.)
- If you don’t have a computer or Internet access, call DOR and someone will do it for you while you’re on the phone. (Someone noted that people were having trouble getting through. Nikki said she and her husband got right through on Saturday, but then, they called during the Gamecocks’ game. She noted that for most people, it’s taking about 12 minutes to get through.)
- “We don’t know whose information was compromised.” SLED Chief Mark Keel, to whom the governor deferred repeatedly during the event, said it could be weeks before that is known.
- No one knows yet how much it will cost for the state to provide the ID protection it is offering to citizens free of charge. “We are in negotiations with Experian” on that, she said. The cost depends on how many sign up. All she could say was that the state will get a wholesale rate.
- How will it be paid for? She said that would be up to the General Assembly; the money will have to be appropriated.
- Why not just go ahead and enroll everybody in the protection? she was asked. Because tax records are confidential, and the state is not allowed to sign someone up for something that they might not want, she said.
- Most Social Security numbers are not encrypted, she said, either in the private or public sector. “This is not just a DOR problem; it’s an industry problem.” She said it was “the industry standard” that such information would not be encrypted.
- How will minors be covered? In the coming weeks, people who signed up for protection will get the opportunity to sign up for family plans to cover the children associated with their accounts.
When asked whether anyone in her administration has been disciplined over this, she said, “The person I hope will be disciplined is this international criminal that came in and hacked.”
“This wasn’t an issue where anyone in the agency could have avoided it. This wasn’t an issue where anyone in state government could have done something to avoid it. This is a situation that a sophisticated, intelligent criminal got into a database, that is unbelievably creative on how he did it, and now we’re having to deal with it,” she said. Earlier, she had said, “You know, it’s amazing, because when you are dealing with international hackers, you are dealing with a new, sophisticated type of intelligence that a lot of us have not dealt with.” She said if the CIA can be hacked into, anyone can.
“It’s the new world in which we live in,” she said.
As for the point on which she is most vulnerable to criticism, she pointedly did deflect responsibility. She insisted that citizens were not notified earlier because she deferred to the judgment of law enforcement professionals, and said that was the appropriate thing to do in such a situation. In fact, emphasizing that she doesn’t accept blame for that, she had Mark Keel start off the press conference.
“I know that much has been made about the timing of making this public,” said Keel. “The timing of notifying the public… was dictated by law enforcement. It was done because we were conducting an investigation. We were trying to … protect this information as much as we possibly could, and by allowing us the time that we had to conduct our investigation, we believe that this information was better protected than it would have been otherwise.”
“It was done because we asked the administration to allow us time…,” he said.
Nikki Haley’s summary on it all? “It’s not the crisis itself; it’s how you handle it.” And she insisted over and over that the protection being offered to citizens after this breach is second-to-none. She said her family’s information was hacked several years ago, and “I wish we’d had what we are offering today.”