Cindi Scoppe first raised the question in her column yesterday headlined, “Is SC computer breach transforming Gov. Nikki Haley?” The column was made possible by one of the first signs of new maturity in our governor — a phone conversation with editorial writers (as opposed to her usual pep rally with her admirers on her Facebook page), to engage in actual dialogue about the Department of Revenue hacking mess:
… (F)rom her first public utterances, Gov. Nikki Haley insisted that there was nothing anyone in state government could have done to prevent the breach.
Even more troubling were her assurances that weren’t so absurd on their face. She said that hacking experts told her thieves usually use stolen data within six to eight months and that “Usually after a year, they don’t see anything,” but security experts say that while that’s true with credit card numbers, just the opposite is true with Social Security numbers. She insisted that leaving Social Security numbers unencrypted was an “industry standard” in the banking industry, but some banking officials disputed that. She said other states didn’t encrypt their data, but failed to mention that our go-to comparison neighbors, North Carolina and Georgia, do.
I’ve never been comfortable with the governor’s tendency to speak in absolutes, of her black-and-white sense of certainty. But there’s a world of difference between being careless or misleading when defending yourself from political attacks or engaging in policy debates and doing the same thing when what you say affects how 4.25 million current and former South Carolinians make potentially life-changing decisions about their personal financial security.
So it was a relief earlier this month when, confronted by comments to the contrary by an investigator hired by the state, the governor told reporters that she didn’t yet know enough to say whether anyone could have prevented the breach. Of course, she also insisted that she had never said otherwise. Still it was a start.
Then during a conference call with editorial writers on Friday, Ms. Haley gave an uncharacteristically tentative answer to a question about the hacking and added: “Understand that I can’t speak in absolutes because I feel like I learn something new every day.”
“I hesitate on saying whether there was something internal or external, because the one thing I think I’ve learned in this is you can’t talk in absolutes,” she said a few minutes later, noting that after she thought she knew everything about the hacking, “the second day they added more, the third day they added more … .”
Yes, as Cindi noted, the governor still doesn’t know how to acknowledge her mistakes. She follows more the Orwellian approach of adopting a new line and insisting it has always been her line. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia…
But let’s embrace the encouraging new signs. This is a major development, for Nikki Haley to base her perceptions of the world on actual facts and experience, rather than her ideological, self-affirming preconceptions. For an unsullied ideologue like our governor, for whom truth has been whatever aphorisms help to get her elected, to start learning a little more each day, and recognize she’s doing so, and actually apply the lessons she’s learning, makes for a great day in South Carolina, compared to what we’ve known.
After trying out her new approach on editorialists, our governor has gone public with it:
Columbia, SC — As more South Carolinians learned that hackers hold their tax return data, Gov. Nikki Haley admitted Tuesday that the state did not do enough to protect their sensitive financial information and accepted the resignation of the agency director in the middle of the controversy.
“Could South Carolina have done a better job? Absolutely, or we would not be standing here,” said Haley, who had insisted in the first days after revealing the cyber attack that nothing could have prevented the breach.
Hackers possess Social Security and other data belonging to 5.7 million people – 3.8 million taxpayers and their 1.9 million dependents, Haley said. The number of businesses affected has risen slightly to nearly 700,000. All of the stolen tax data dating back to 1998 was unencrypted.
The theft at the S.C. Department of Revenue is the largest known hacking at a state agency nationwide…
Note how she can’t resist using the word “absolutely,” even in connection with an assertion that is the opposite of what she’d said earlier (which means either it’s not absolute, or she was absolutely wrong earlier).
But hey, when your child starts to speak, do you castigate her for immature pronunciation? This is a start, and I’m inclined to celebrate it, and hope our governor continues her journey out of her hothouse bubble and keeps engaging the world as it actually is.