Govt. data on 'Joe the Plumber' illegally accessed?

While many turned to Google to learn about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, others reportedly accessed personal information about him from Ohio government computers.

Stephanie Condon
Stephanie Condon Staff writer, CBSNews.com
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.
2 min read

Government computers in Ohio may been used to illegally access personal information about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, otherwise known as "Joe the Plumber," according to the Columbus Dispatch.

During their October 15 debate, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain referred to "Joe the Plumber" constantly. In the days following the debate, information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport utility vehicle was retrieved from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times, the Dispatch reported.

With access to such information limited to legitimate law enforcement and government business, state and local officials are now investigating whether the information was obtained illegally. The information was retrieved using accounts assigned to the Ohio attorney general's office, a county child support enforcement agency, and the Toledo Police Department, according to the report.

An Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign told the Dispatch that the information breach may have been politically motivated.

"It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question," Paul Lindsay told the Dispatch.

The Obama campaign refuted those claims.

"Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated," Isaac Baker, an Obama spokesman, told the Dispatch. "If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully."

References to "Joe the Plumber" spurred many to search the Internet for information about Wurzelbacher, a 34-year-old from Holland, Ohio, who is, in fact, not a certified plumber.

Both campaigns are attempting to benefit from the interest in the plumber and are paying for ad spots on Google for the search term "Joe the plumber," shown below.

The McCain ad leads to a video, in which Wurzelbacher appears, that says Obama is "not truthful on taxes." The Obama ad leads to the "Obama-Biden tax calculator."