NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s safety department is creating a new unit to investigate identity theft crimes that local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to target.
Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons announced on Tuesday that the 14-member unit would be made up of personnel from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the state Office of Homeland Security and the Driver Services division.
The unit will also work with the U.S. Secret Service in Memphis and Nashville, the federal Homeland Security Investigations department and the FBI’s Memphis division.
Gibbons said identity theft and fraud crimes are a growing problem in Tennessee, but many local law enforcement agencies don’t have enough resources or manpower to investigate these crimes.
“When you go to local law enforcement agencies across the state, they will pretty much tell you that identity crime is one of the toughest types of crimes for them to investigate,” he said. “Very few police departments have investigators that have the expertise to investigate these types of crimes.”
The Shelby County Commission has filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters in The Commercial Appeal’s stories about suburban plans to create their own school districts.
More from Sunday’s CA: Editor Chris Peck called the request a “fishing expedition” and an unwarranted invasion of readers’ privacy, and the newspaper’s attorney, Lucian Pera, said he will resist on grounds the subpoena infringes on the work of the newspaper and the rights of readers.
County Commission attorney Imad Abdullah said in the subpoena the county wants first and last names, postal addresses and telephone numbers of all account users who posted comments, including comments the newspaper’s digital media staff removed because they were racially charged or otherwise inappropriate.
Abdullah did not specify a reason for the request nor how the information would be used, and he did not return calls or e-mails asking about the county’s motives. But Lori Patterson, a spokeswoman for his law firm, sent an e-mail saying, “At this point, we would prefer not to comment on the purpose of the subpoena.”
The subpoena the attorneys filed this week specifies 45 newspaper stories dating from Nov. 19, 2010, to July 12, 2012. The earliest story was about the Memphis school board’s initial consideration of surrendering its charter, a move that ultimately led to the merger of city and county schools. The latest story was about U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel ‘Hardy’ Mays’ ruling allowing municipalities to hold referendums on whether to set up independent school districts with the caveat that the constitutionality of the referendums will have to be decided later.
On June 26, the County Commission attorneys filed a federal court motion to block the Aug. 2 referendums to start school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. They argued that the people who arranged the referendums are trying to discriminate against African-Americans by carving out majority white suburban districts from the new unified school district.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes’ Facebook identify was stolen last week and the imposter posted fake statements using “a lot of colorful language” under the lawmaker’s name for a while, the Knoxville Republican said Monday.
Haynes said he had visited a library on Wednesday and logged into Facebook while there. He speculated that someone may have seen him type in a password and used it to take over his page on the social media network later.
His listing of personal information was changed to say that he was homosexual and that he worked for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, a reference to the school attended by the fictional Harry Potter. His picture on the site was replaced by a photo of a panda.
The imposter also sent messages that were offensive to many, the legislator said, and when the missive brought a response, replied in a flippant and derogatory manner.
“I got about 150 phone calls in 30 minutes,” he said. “People thought I was committing political suicide and wanted to know what was going on.”
Haynes said he called Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, who advised him “there really wasn’t much they could do.”
Kristen Helm, spokeswoman for TBI, confirmed the conversation and said Gwyn had advised Haynes to get in touch with Facebook directly.
“Due to Facebook’s policies and procedures, law enforcement does not have a mechanism in place to investigate complaints about Facebook. So TBI is not investigating this incident,” Helm said in an email.
A law approved by the General Assembly earlier this year – with Haynes among the large majority voting for it – authorizes law enforcement to obtain identifying information on those who post statements or pictures intended to cause “emotional distress.”
Haynes agreed that the law should not apply in his case.
“I can’t say that I was emotionally distressed,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure people knew that wasn’t me doing all that.”
The legislator said he subsequently got in touch with Facebook overseers who deleted the imposter postings and “everything is straightened out now.”
A new law that strengthens how Tennessee deals with identity theft takes effect Friday, and it had its start with Sgt. Brian Farris of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department, reports the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. “Working a lot of identity theft cases, there was no jurisdiction,” Farris said. “Bad guys were getting away with stuff … falling through the cracks.” If your identity was stolen by someone out of state, using your credit card number to run up charges totalling thousands, in the past, officials from that jurisdiction would say “well, we don’t have a victim, so we don’t have a crime,” Farris said.
Farris contacted Sen. Jim Tracy and Rep. Pat Marsh, both Shelbyville Republicans. They had him work with legislative staff to draft the bill, HB151 (link to bill summary page HERE) and it passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law May 27. “Everybody should go and watch how you take something, an idea that came from nothing, see it put on paper and then develop it, get it through subcommittees, and then put it on the floor for a full vote so that everybody can review or critique it,” he said.