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Prosecutor won't charge reporter who uncovered database flaw

GOV. MIKE PARSON briefing July 2 2020.jpg
Posted at 10:47 AM, Feb 12, 2022

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri prosecutor will not charge a St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist who exposed a state database flaw that allowed public access to thousands of teachers' Social Security numbers.

Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson released a statement Friday saying there is an argument to be made that there was a violation of law, and that the issues at the heart of the investigation have been resolved through non-legal means, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

"As such, it is not in the best interest of Cole County citizens to utilize the significant resources and taxpayer dollars that would be necessary to pursue misdemeanor criminal charges in this case," Thompson said.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson announced the investigation in October after a Post-Dispatch reporter informed the state of a significant data issue that left the teachers' data vulnerable to public disclosure. The newspaper held off publishing a story about the flaw until the state fixed it.

"We are pleased the prosecutor recognized there was no legitimate basis for any charges against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or our reporter," Post-Dispatch Publisher Ian Caso said in a statement. "While an investigation of how the state allowed this information to be accessible was appropriate, the accusations against our reporter were unfounded and made to deflect embarrassment for the state's failures and for political purposes."

The Post-Dispatch obtained records through an open records request showing that the state education commissioner initially planned to thank the newspaper for finding the problem. But the state instead issued a news release calling the reporter a "hacker."

Parson issued a statement saying Thompson's office believed the decision "was properly addressed."

"The state did its part by investigating and presenting its findings to the Cole County prosecutor, who has elected not to press charges, as is his prerogative," spokeswoman Kelli Jones said.