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A veteran recreation council coach has been told he has to furnish his social security number for a background check, a requirement he believes is inappropriate.

But the rules are clear: comply or stop coaching.

So, Dave Godbey, former volunteer basketball coach with the Emmorton Rec Council, says he has been relieved of his duties because he failed to relinquish his social security number.

Godbey says his problem does not lie with policies themselves, established for the safety of the children involved, but with the privacy implications that go along with revealing certain personal information to third parties, specifically, identity theft.

Cyber-hacking and identity theft are his primary concerns, problems with which he is familiar, since he works as a government contractor and software developer. Inefficient cyber security is a reason he says justifies his refusal to reveal his social security number.

Private organizations

The setting of identity checks and other policies by recreation councils points up another issue: Though the councils use facilities, such as ballfields and gyms that for the most part sit on public land belonging to the county or the school system, they operate as private organizations, or “sovereign entities” in the words of one county official, and thus have no outside oversight of their finances, policies or activities.

As a result, several county officials say the rec councils can set policies as they see fit.

Emmorton Rec Council’s background check policy allows for a broad investigation of its volunteers using their social security numbers, including credit records and financial information, by a Florida-based contractor called Protect Youth Sports.

The background check release form is accessible through their website, www.emmortonrec.com.

No answers

Godbey says he was unable to extract any answers from Protect Youth Sports about whether the company has ever experienced cyber theft.

“I don’t know if they have been lucky enough to have not been hacked,” he said.

“I would like to see some evidence that they have submitted testing [penetration tests, cyber security tests] and that they have done very well,” he explained. “I would like to see that they have some kind of mechanism to scrub the data off the system.”

So the question remains: Do those rec councils that perform background checks requiring social security numbers have policies in place to protect the personal information of their volunteers?

Emmorton Rec Council representatives declined to comment about their policies or f concerns. A majority of the remaining local rec councils contacted likewise offered no comment about their background check policies.

No SSA number required

Bel Air Recreation Committee, which uses another system called the Maryland SOR (www.dpscs.state.md.us/sorSearch/), the state sex offender registry, as recommended by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, does not require volunteers to reveal their social security numbers, unlike their Emmorton counterpart.

The “issue of hackers is nonexistent,” Susan Steiner, of the Bel Air Recreation Committee, said.

Godbey voiced his concerns to members of Emmorton Rec Council’s board of directors at their annual meeting Jan. 25. He asked them to explain their policies and to reveal how much of the budget is allocated for background checks.

“I asked, ‘What is the policy governing background checks?’ You would think that would be a simple question,” he said. “I also asked how much they pay for their service.”

Godbey said he received no responses.

“They wouldn’t tell me,” he said. “I am going to accept that people are going to have disagreements. But, to withhold information that should be public?”

“Are these questions that I am entitled to get answers to?” he asked.

Will keep pressing

Godbey doesn’t plan on ceasing his fight to protect private information, and hopes that his persistence will eventually persuade the county to address identity theft and privacy concerns.

But Arden McClune, director of the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation, said regulations on background checks are not dictated at the county government level because the rec councils are separate nonprofit entities.

Responsibility for development and implementation of such policies, and subsequent budgets, rests on the shoulders of each individual rec council’s board of directors, McClune said.

“The rec councils are independent,” McClune explained. “They do the programming. They designate the coaches. They basically make their policies on background checks.”

“We have worked with them on occasion to help them with vendors, but we do not mandate whether they do background checks,” she added.

Aaron Tomarchio, Harford County Executive David Craig’s chief of staff, agrees.

“When it comes to our relationships with rec councils, we don’t have an authority over those organizations,” Tomarchio, whose office handles governmental relations with community organizations, said. “The county, in the past, has not forced its will on these rec councils. We get into a gray area, a delicate balance, when we have a separate nonprofit and the government dictating policy.”

Advisory only

County representatives do meet with rec council presidents annually to offer suggestions, but they impose no regulations upon the organizations, Tomarchio said.

Godbey said he met with Tomarchio to discuss the potential for developing security protocols at the county level in the future.

“He was going to engage the Parks and Rec people, to talk with them and see if it makes sense to develop some countywide guidelines,” Godbey said.

“After my meeting with Mr. Godbey, I had a meeting with Arden [McClune},” Tomarchio said last week. “We talked and we know that the rec councils are sovereign entities. However, we can make a recommendation that rec councils take a look at how they do background checks and maybe adopt a countywide standard, but that is only a recommendation.”

Until then, it seems the vulnerability of rec volunteer information is an issue that will be left up to the discretion of each council, something Godbey said is a bit disconcerting.

“All of the talk has been about the safety of the kids,” Godbey said. “This is important. I have no qualms about that. But there is no one thinking about the privacy implications, about identity theft.”

“The county does feel that background checks are an important part of insuring safety. I feel it is an appropriate thing to do,” Tomarchio explained, “but the process needs to be firm and secure.”


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