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Gun buyers file to stop police from tapping other agencies for purchase reviews

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Maryland gun clubs and advocates are asking a judge to stop the state police from using other agency employees to process a massive backlog of gun applications — a practice they say compromises gun owners' personal information.

The group on Wednesday filed for a temporary restraining order and asked for an injunction to prevent police from continuing the practice. A hearing before an Anne Arundel County judge is scheduled Thursday.

Earlier this month, Maryland State Police recruited about 200 employees from five other state agencies to enter personal information from prospective gun buyers into a police database. The move was meant to help alleviate a backlog of some 39,000 pending purchase applications that have flooded in ahead of Oct. 1, the date stricter background checks for gun purchases will take effect in the state.

The issue that gun owners have raised in their case is whether state police compromised their personal information — including Social Security and driver's license numbers, addresses and information about their mental health or criminal histories — by hosting the database on an unsecure computer network.

"There's probably 80,000 to 100,000 people in this database," said Patrick Shomo, president of Maryland Shall Issue, one of four groups that filed the civil complaint. "My primary concern is information can be compromised through an unencrypted network."

Attorney Sky Woodward, who is representing the groups, declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

A state police spokesman dismissed the accusations, saying the complaint was without merit.

"The Maryland State Police fully complied with all laws and regulations," spokesman Greg Shipley said in a statement. "The procedure was reviewed by the Attorney General's Office and found to be appropriate."

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, last week asked the Maryland attorney general's office to weigh in on whether it was legal for the police agency to outsource in such a way.

"The [state police have] taken steps to ensure that the confidentiality of applicants' personal information is maintained throughout the data-entry process," wrote Adam Snyder, chief counsel to the attorney general, in a decision issued this week.

Much of the attorney general's response centered on the legality of using employees from other agencies to process the data, but it also highlighted efforts the agency took to protect private information.

"The participating State employees were trained on the importance of treating the application information confidentially and are bound by the conditions of State service to do so," Mr. Snyder wrote.

He added that employees were given encrypted images of the forms that they entered into the police database "through a secure website" and on police-secured data-entry system.

Mr. Shomo said he doesn't have a problem with police doing the background checks, he just wants a better understanding of how they complete the work.

And if there was an issue with the security of the database, he hopes police will reach out to gun owners and those seeking background checks to warn them if their personal information was compromised.

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