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DOH Won't Participate In Data Breach Hearing Tuesday, Citing Pending Litigation

Matt Rourke

The state Senate’s communications and technology committee will hold a hearing on a COVID-19 contact tracing data breach Tuesday morning, but the state Department of Health will not provide testimony. Department director of communications Barry Ciccocioppo said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, and is therefore unable to participate.

A federal class action lawsuit filed last week names both the Department of Health and its contractor, Insight Global, as defendants. The suit alleges that employees of contractor Insight Global misidentified themselves when they called people infected with COVID-19 to perform contact tracing. The lead plaintiff is Lisa Chapman of New Kensington, who told attorneys she provided private information about herself, her husband and her five minor children.

“If she would have known they weren’t actually from the health department or affiliated with the health department, she never would have spoken to these people,” said Pittsburgh attorney Jack Goodrich, one of several lawyers working on the case.

On April 29, Insight Global announced the data vulnerability, saying it stemmed from some employees using personal Google accounts to share information. The company said it learned of the data vulnerability on April 21 and the DOH said it became aware of the issue only recently as well.

But an exhibit in the federal lawsuit shows an email dated February 25, purportedly from an Insight Global whistleblower to the DOH, sharing concerns about data security.

“People, consumers, Pennsylvanians, taxpayers should get more for $29 million than a business using unsecured Google documents with their most private and personal information,” said attorney Lauren Nichols, who is also working on the case.

The DOH said that Insight Global did not follow security protocols established in the contract, and that the contract will not be renewed when it expires this summer.

Attorneys said they’d hoped to “get answers” at Tuesday morning’s senate hearing; but their very lawsuit prevents DOH from attending. It’s unclear if there will be any testimony at the hearing.

"This, quite simply, isn't a hearing,” said Democratic co-chair Sen. John Kane in an e-mail. “Nobody is testifying, so there isn't going to be anybody for us to ‘hear’ from, and I don't feel the need to sit through a Republican caucus meeting.”

Republican committee chair Kristin Phillips-Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a staffer confirmed that the hearing will go on without the DOH.