Distraught lawmaker wants to sue journalist for viewing website HTML code

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When St. Louis Post-Expedition Journalist Josh Renaud reported a serious safety issue on a Missouri state website he believed was doing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) a favor. Missouri Governor Mike Parson didn’t see it that way and now wants to sue the reporter. Despite the fact that websites have been open to the public for over 30 years, Parson and many lawmakers are unfamiliar with how the technology works.

Josh renaud
Josh Renaud, developer of St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Image credit: JoshRenaud.com)

Renaud discovered that the source code for DESE’s website revealed the social security numbers of more than 100,000 teachers, administrators and school counselors. The reporter behaved with ethics and integrity, alerting the department to the error and waiting for the vulnerability to be addressed before publish a story report the problem.

Margie Vendeven
Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven

Governor Parson, in turn, accused Renaud of “hacking” the DESE website. Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven prepares for thank the newspaper for discovering the vulnerability, decided otherwise after meeting with the governor. Instead, the Education Commissioner sent a letter to educators claiming that Renaud “took the files of at least three educators, deciphered the source code of the webpage, and looked up the Social Security Number (SSN). of these specific educators “.

For those unfamiliar with how web pages work, they are mostly written in HTML. The source code is transmitted, in unencrypted plain text, over the Internet to your web browser. Anyone who knows how to view the source of the page could access information mistakenly included in the website’s HTML code.

According to the archives, the St. Louis Post-Expedition obtained, the FBI even informed the state. Agents told state officials that the site had been “misconfigured” and that the journalist’s actions did not constitute “a real intrusion into the network.”

Despite all of this, Cole County District Attorney Locke Thompson took over the case from the Missouri State Highway Patrol on December 27, 2021. Governor Parson, at a press conference on December 29, suggested that Thompson should sue Renaud and the newspaper under a state law on computer forgery.


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