JEFFERSON CITY — Republican state senators reacted with outrage Wednesday as federal fraud investigators testified that they had sought three times to obtain a list of Missouri's concealed gun permit holders, which the lawmakers denounced as an unjustified invasion of privacy.
The testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee capped a roughly two-month-long initiative by GOP lawmakers. They're looking into the way Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration has collected and shared information from Missouri residents applying for driver's licenses and concealed weapons' identification cards.
Nixon's administration says the efforts are intended to fight fraud. But Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said his probe has shown, "we have huge flaws in protecting private data."
Wednesday's committee hearing stems from a decision late last year by the Department of Revenue to begin requiring clerks to make electronic copies of personal documents such as birth certificates and concealed-carry permits for people applying for driver's licenses and identification cards.
As senators were investigating that new policy, the State Highway Patrol revealed last month that it had obtained a list of concealed weapons permit holders based on data previously gathered by the Revenue Department. The patrol said it provided the list to an investigator in the inspector general's office of the Social Security Administration who was looking into potential fraud in disability benefits.
On Wednesday, Special Agent Keith Schilb testified that he sought a list of Missouri's concealed gun permit holders in November 2011 but destroyed the computer disk because the list of names, birth dates and Social Security numbers appeared jumbled. He said he sought and obtained another list this January but could not open the password-protected computer disk and destroyed it. In February, Schilb said, he again requested a computer disk of concealed gun permit holders but never picked it up, because his supervisors decided the effort would have taken too much time and too many resources.
"This was a potential project that never got off the ground," Schilb said.
But that did little to mollify Republican lawmakers.
"It does appear that the only thing that prevented a huge breach of Missourians' personal data and information is either an accident or an act of God," said Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla.
Schaefer, his voice rising as he questioned federal investigators, declared that he was "floored by the casualness" with which a list of more than 163,000 Missourians with concealed gun permits was sought by federal investigators and turned over by state officials. He suggested the potential investigation could have targeted veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, who legitimately are receiving Social Security disability benefits but may also legitimately have a concealed gun permit because they have never been judged mentally incompetent.
"The level of irresponsibleness on behalf of the state of Missouri is unbelievable," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.
The Senate hearing occurred as Republicans senators released copies of a form letter they recently obtained in which U.S. Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano thanked Nixon for his efforts to comply with a federal proof-of-identity law — seeming to contradict assertions by Nixon that his administration is not implementing the Real ID Act. The March 17, 2010, letter from Napolitano specifically cites Missouri's "efforts in improving security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards."
Nixon signed a 2009 law prohibiting the state from taking steps intended to comply with the goals of Real ID, and Nixon denied last month that his administration was attempting comply with the law.
Acting Revenue Department Director John Mollenkamp reasserted Wednesday that Missouri is not implementing Real ID. To show that the letter was essentially meaningless, Nixon's administration distributed copies of similar letters sent by Napolitano on the same date to governors of Virginia, Oregon, Maine and Idaho.
But Schaefer said he still has concerns.
"The semantics of we're not complying, I think the letter goes a long way to show how absurd that argument from the Department of Revenue is," Schaefer said.