September 30, 2022


A Code for Advancement

Cybersecurity and ethics concerns surround computer data files found in Lancaster County workplace | Neighborhood Information

Dozens of private data files belonging to Lancaster County’s leading attorney – such as files relevant to local Republican Party committees – had been learned on a county federal government laptop network before this year, boosting questions about irrespective of whether she carried out campaign or other outside perform utilizing taxpayer time or assets.

The documents belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who very last yr was appointed county solicitor. Pfursich stated she unintentionally transferred the documents on to the county’s laptop or computer community when she utilized a individual thumb travel in July 2021 to transfer some function-associated data files as she transitioned into her new purpose as solicitor.

LNP | LancasterOnline attained copies of the 85 or so files in dilemma. They include things like 55 documents linked to Pfursich’s political work with the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at the very least 13 data files relevant to exterior authorized perform Pfursich carried out in the course of many years she was serving as clerk of courts, and 11 documents that were being individual in character, like her children’s report cards. The character of a number of other files — this sort of as a see for a winter donation generate — is unclear.

At the exact time she served as clerk of courts, Pfursich represented personal lawful purchasers on the facet. She’s also been a longtime leader in the area Republican Occasion, serving as chair of the Hempfield Spot Republican Committee because 2016.

The clerk of courts is an elected placement. Elected officers like the clerk are permitted to hold exterior work opportunities though serving in business. But Pennsylvania’s Community Officers and Workers Ethics Act bars elected officials from applying their business for “personal economical achieve.” And the Pennsylvania Point out Ethics Commission, which investigates ethics complaints, has located conducting marketing campaign perform and personal get the job done with county means, these kinds of as a laptop or computer or telephone, to qualify as a sort of fiscal obtain.

The fee also has to discover that the exercise was much more than a tiny get. It observed in 2017 that a Beaver County commissioner, Joe Spanik, experienced violated the Ethics Act by directing his secretary at the county to do marketing campaign work for his re-election. She used county place of work devices and time she was on the clock to do it.

The fee calculated she used about 17 hours carrying out the operate, valued at a minimum amount of $415, based mostly on her spend fee. He also employed notary companies from the county valued at $180. Spanik approved an agreement with the fee to pay back $1,000, most of which went to Beaver County.

Information described

The political and particular documents belonging to Pfursich ended up initially reviewed in community at a June board of commissioners meeting when Ron Harper, Jr., a Rapho Township male, claimed he experienced unearthed evidence that Pfursich experienced misused her place of work as clerk of courts. Harper has worked both equally independently and with Pennsylvania Republicans as an opposition researcher and investigator of political officials.

Internally, the existence of own and political files on the clerk of courts community was initial described to human means director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo penned by Pfursich’s successor, Mary Anater. Trescot was notified, Anater reported, mainly because he is her office’s selected chief point of get hold of with the over-all county board of commissioners.

Anater explained employees in the office had been informed of the documents but did not immediately alert her to them right until numerous months into her tenure, in March. “When staff members concerns ended up ultimately lifted with me, I reviewed the documents, identified they had been from county policy” and documented them, she explained.

Pfursich said she was unaware in the course of that time period that the data files, some which contained confidential info of lawful clientele, were accessible in a shared county personal computer network.

“In hindsight, I really should have applied a new, new thumb travel to prevent any accidental transfer of files,” Pfursich said. “However, I have never employed county desktops or county assets for political needs.”

Pfursich provided LNP | LancasterOnline with an internal memo from the county IT director, Steven Clement, that shows he observed it possible her transfer of particular documents to the county’s network was accidental.

“The info in dilemma was conveniently identifiable as becoming own in mother nature, possible the end result of an accidental thumb push imprint, and not routinely deleted during the standard wiping of facts upon prior employees’ transition from the situation,” Clement claimed in an April 1 memo to the county’s top administrator, chief clerk Lawrence George who oversees the county’s different departments, like IT and human methods.

For each George’s course, IT workers taken out the files from the shared push and forwarded them to the main clerk for storage on a county drive tied to his office environment, he informed LNP | LancasterOnline. Storing the information on a tough push prevented anyone with entry to the county network drive from accessing them.

But he took no supplemental steps to glance more into the make a difference or refer it to a person else – no matter whether an exterior legal professional or other investigative physique – and George claimed he did not take into account regardless of whether the existence of the data files called for further more inquiry.

“The 1st aim was to get rid of all the info that was considered available to somebody it must not have been available to, and my initial assumed was not definitely, ‘Oh, is that likely to taint any sort of investigation that could will need to comply with?’” George reported.

Moral factors

Pfursich’s account of how the data files wound up in the county community and the subsequent reaction by George and others raises issues about the county’s cybersecurity insurance policies and protocols, as nicely as how it handles possible ethics matters involving elected officers.

Pat Christmas, policy director at the Philadelphia-based excellent governing administration group Committee of Seventy, claimed it is unclear, based mostly on a description of the situation, regardless of whether the issue has ethics implications or signifies some sort of breakdown in the county’s HR protocols.

If this was only a slip-up by Pfursich, Xmas said, county officials may perhaps want to evaluate the onboarding method for county workforce.

“Maybe it requirements to be sharpened up to keep away from this type of issue occurring in the upcoming, most likely education all over this, as very well as for the people who would administer this kind of a policy,” he stated.

The make a difference deserves further inquiry, Xmas claimed. The public deserves assurance its elected officials are keeping above board, he claimed, in particular in an era when faith and have faith in in authorities are at all-time lows.

“Even rather insignificant infractions or opportunity violations can dent that belief, so that is why, substantively, and with regard to notion, I think these concerns make a difference,” Christmas stated.

George referred to as the situation about Pfursich’s documents “unprecedented.”

“Thankfully, this does not occur up quite usually. In reality, I’m not informed of any instance definitely in my vocation,” George stated. But he acknowledged the county must have clearer strategies for similar predicaments.

In an electronic mail, Trescot, the Democratic commissioner, explained he would assist possessing a much better defined set off for examining likely ethics matters and producing suggestions 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 very same thoughts.

Just before getting first elected as clerk of courts in 2015, Pfursich labored as assistant county solicitor.

Current plan

By means of an open data request, LNP | LancasterOnline acquired a duplicate of Lancaster County’s IT stability policy. Past up-to-date in June 2021, it does not expressly forbid consumers of the county program from utilizing outside thumb drives or putting county documents onto a individual machine, as Pfursich discussed was her intention.

It does say that users “should retail outlet operate documents and facts on cloud-foundation storage, somewhat than on gadget really hard drives or USB storage equipment, as cloud-based mostly storage gives much better safety than the solutions.” They also will need to ensure individuals storage units are scanned for viruses before staying used.

LNP | LancasterOnline attained Lancaster County’s IT safety coverage by way of an open documents ask for.

Other language in the coverage appears to exempt elected officers from the insurance policies hired employees have to adhere to. The policy language expressly states that it applies to “all folks with granted approved entry,” but an asterisked note says elected officers employing the process “are dependable for their individual actions.”

Trescot claimed the plan pertaining to elected officers relates to the truth that they are not county workforce. “The county govt does not seek the services of or fireplace elected officials,” he explained.

Using official means for campaign function can run afoul of Pennsylvania’s “theft of services” statute. But a prosecution less than that statute would very likely require evidence of a persistent pattern of using county means for non-formal business.

George instructed LNP | LancasterOnline that his reaction followed county processes, but it generated an unintended consequence of dropping file info that could’ve been aspect of a deeper inquiry.

Clement, the county IT director, did not respond to a call or e mail pertaining to that coverage and regardless of whether deleting the documents from a shared push eliminated the potential to do a further forensic assessment of how and when the own files wound up on the county community.

An lack of ability to assessment the background of laptop activity by county officers would suggest main procedure deficiencies, mentioned Daniel Castro of the Info Engineering and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privateness problems.

IT devices have appear to depend on “audit logs” to beat viruses and ransomware attacks, Castro explained. The logs continue to keep monitor of who accessed what file or program and when, and what they did with it, Castro claimed.

And to allow for end users to copy or transfer county documents to a machine outside the IT system, or at all, was also questionable, Castro reported.

“These are officials for whom chain of custody actually matters – for paperwork, who has accessibility to factors, you want potent audit logs. This all just type of suggests poor IT in normal and IT stability,” Castro mentioned. “That is sort of troubling.”

Team author Carter Walker contributed to this story.

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