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It was an identity-thief's dream, and a privacy advocate's nightmare: documents bearing Social Security numbers and other private information, scattered with the trash on the floor of an abandoned building in the former Hollinsworth Grove public housing project near the Little Rock Airport. The director of the Little Rock Housing Authority, which oversees Hollinsworth, said the documents would be picked up and disposed of, but hours later they were still there.
Acting on a tip, the Arkansas Times entered the former Hollinsworth administration building in the company of Housing Authority employee Gerald Turner, after receiving permission from LRHA director Shelly Ehenger.
Like the rest of the 20-acre Hollinsworth site, which is being readied for demolition for a runway expansion at the Little Rock National Airport, the doors of the administration building and all its windows have been removed. In some places, private documents literally lay in piles, covered in dirt and broken glass. In addition to hand-printed housing application forms — some of them bearing the names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of whole families — we saw and photographed a half-dozen photocopied birth certificates, Social Security cards and driver's licenses.
When paired with names and birthdates, Social Security numbers can be used to commit identity theft, and to open credit card accounts in another person's name. Such information is also valuable for people without legal residency status on job applications.
Housing Authority representative Gerald Turner said the tenants of Hollinsworth have all been moved into the federal housing voucher system, which allows them to live in standard apartment complexes all over the city with rent subsidies.
Contacted by the Arkansas Times after our initial visit to the site, director Ehenger said that the policy of the Little Rock Housing authority is to make sure records are properly disposed of. She said that obviously hadn't been done, and that the problem would be corrected “on an administrative level.”
“If this was my personal information, I wouldn't have wanted it down there,” Ehenger said. “I have to look at it in the best interests of the clients and the public that we serve, and we have not met our obligations in this particular instance.”
At the end of our conversation with Ehenger, the Arkansas Times asked if there was a crew at the site cleaning up the papers. In response, Ehenger said: “So you found something different from Mr. Turner? Because he told me there were four or five sheets of paper…They have assured me they have gotten everything.” In light of this, the reporter asked for permission to visit again.
On returning to Hollinsworth Grove three hours after our initial tour of the premises, we found that Turner had left, and that at least one room of the building was still littered with papers bearing Social Security numbers and other sensitive information. This time, we shot video, including some of yet another double handful of water-stained forms bearing Social Security numbers, and at least one photocopied Social Security card and driver's license.
As we were filming, Turner and another LRHA employee drove up, got out with a push broom and bags, and began picking up the scattered papers. For his part, Turner insisted that he told Ehenger that the Arkansas Times had photographed four or five pieces of paper, not that there were only four or five sensitive documents on the site.
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