Exclusive: Hundreds of private documents found scattered across Grays Ferry

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Documents with personal information, such as social security numbers and signatures, were found strewn all over the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia on Tuesday. (WPVI)

Documents with personal information, such as social security numbers and signatures, were found strewn all over the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia on Tuesday.

We found them after responding to a viewer tip.

Action News looked into where they documents came from, and on Wednesday the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court took responsibility.

They say they are taking action to make sure this never happens again.

"You don't have to steal identify, when identity is just floating up and down the street. If you wait long enough you can just scoop it up," said resident Basaym Hasan.

Hasan told Action News when he walked out his front door he found piles of papers littered across his block.

"When I turned them over I noticed personal information was on there such as email addresses, there's social security numbers, there's people's personal information," said Hasan.

Many of the documents were marked with the court's seal, leaving residents wondering how such sensitive items got landed at their fingertips.

"You have to shred personal information. I have no idea how it got out here," said resident Darren Erby.

Action News contacted the courts. In a statement, the administrative judge called this an "unfortunate accident" and said they are "investigating how this occurred."

We are now learning the courts do not shred documents on their own because they discard a large number of documents every day. They are instead picked up by the Sanitation Department, which is in charge of destroying those records off-site.

The Streets Department today told us "during the tipping process some of the recycling materials got trapped in a wheel well of one of our recycling trucks and became dislodged as the truck left the plant."

Residents says this isn't the first time they have seen personal records floating up and down their block.

"It can be quite embarrassing for the city in a variety of ways to have such information just floating around," said Hasan.

Chief Judge Dougherty in a statement said, "I am not at all comfortable with this system - even prior to this mishap - and have directed our staff to carefully review this procedure and determine what other options might exist that will ensure a more secure handling of sensitive court documents."

And the courts also told me there is no industrial shredder that would allow them to shred all those records on site.

That is why they have, in the past, depended on this process of having them taken off site for destruction, but they are now reviewing those policies and procedures.

FULL STATEMENTS:

"This incident was an unfortunate accident. We are still investigating exactly how it occurred. Regardless, it never should have happened. The long-standing process is that the city's Sanitation Department is responsible for regularly collecting, transporting and destroying old court documents at a city-owned waste facility in Gray's Ferry. I am not at all comfortable with this system - even prior to this mishap - and have directed our staff to carefully review this procedure and determine what other options might exist that will ensure a more secure handling of sensitive court documents."

The Honorable Kevin Dougherty
Administrative Judge
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Trial Division



"The Streets Department discovered that during the tipping process some recycling materials got trapped in the wheel well of one of our recycling trucks and became dislodged as the truck left the plant. When we became aware of the problem we immediately dispatched crews to clean the streets in the vicinity of the recycling plant.
We do pick up recycling materials from the Criminal Justice Center. Paper products that are set-out for recycling are handled like any other standard recycling commodity. We process over 125,000 tons of recycling materials per year."

June S. Cantor
Public Relations Specialist II
Streets Department

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