Whistleblower fired after alleging voter security breach by Florida elections office

An elections official in the Orange County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office in Orlando, Fla. allegedly let unredacted voter information be accessed by unauthorized personnel.

Updated: December 12, 2022 - 4:27pm

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An employee in the Orange County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office in Orlando, Fla., exfiltrated private voter data to hundreds of workers, potentially jeopardizing the security of thousands of protected voters, a whistleblower alleges.

Brian Freid, a whistleblower in the Orange County SOE, was fired from his position as the Information Systems Director in October after he called for the firing of another SOE official who was found by two separate investigations to have allowed unredacted voter data to be accessed by unauthorized personnel and kept private employee information and pirated software on his computer.

In March, a technician asked for the information of all 900,000 Orange County voters to be put on a thumb drive in violation of official procedures, Freid told Just the News. Freid was told by two election officials and the Supervisor of Elections that the technician was new and didn't understand the process.

Of the 900,000 voters, 4,100 are protected voters — such as domestic abuse victims, police, firefighters, politicians, and judges — whose personally identifiable information (PII) was supposed to be redacted.

The official had allegedly allowed unredacted voter database information of all Orange County voters to be downloaded on thumb drives and sent out with more than 200 temp workers who were responsible for setting up ePoll book tablets the weekend before elections. The thumb drives were supposed to be blank when they were sent out, as they are only to be used on the morning of Election Day to transfer the voter database between ePoll book tablets.

An internal investigation of the offending official began in May after Freid learned that the official had solved an issue with the SOE financial system when he wasn't supposed to have authorization to do so.

The internal investigation found that the official had three pieces of pirated software, employee HIPAA information and tax returns on his computer, access to SOE employees' email inboxes and all administrative privileges and logins for all the office's systems.

Following the internal investigation, Freid recommended that the official be terminated, but Democratic SOE Bill Cowles ordered a third party investigation instead.

Conducted by Redbeard Intelligence & Investigations, the third-party investigation found that the official had a total of 13 pieces of pirated software, in addition to the private SOE employee information the internal investigation had found and administrative access to all the office's systems.

The SOE spent $10,800 on the third-party investigation, West Orlando News reported.

In June, Freid contacted the Florida Department of State to alert them to the possibility of people's identities being stolen. He then contacted the Office of Election Crimes and Security, which said it was aware an incident had occurred and needed to be investigated but they didn't have the resources or bandwidth to check the dark web. The office referred Freid to an official in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but Freid says he never heard back from them.

The state department contacted Cowles in July and recommended that his office reach out to the 4,100 protected voters to inform them that their confidential information may have been leaked. If Cowles had done that, Freid told Just the News, he would have met the department's requirements for rectifying the issue, but instead Cowles said he wouldn't inform the protected voters until he had 100% proof that everyone's information had been leaked,.

The official, who worked at the SOE for nearly 15 years, received 30 days of paid administrative leave during the investigations into his conduct after which he was allowed to resign with one month's pay, Freid said.

Freid, on the other hand, was put on unpaid administrative leave for 21 days and told to sign a nondisclosure agreement regarding the issues found in the SOE or else be fired. Freid refused to sign the agreement and was terminated in October after holding his position since June 2020.

Freid filed a sworn affidavit with the state department in November recapitulating his allegations regarding the official.

In September, Freid had also contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after Cowles told him not to, but didn't initially hear back.

Reached for comment by Just the News on Friday, the FDLE confirmed it "has received a complaint" from Freid and said that it is "under review."

Freid told "Just the News, No Noise" TV show on Friday that the Florida State Department had contacted him on Thursday to assist them in the investigation.

Regarding his firing, Freid told the show that he had exceeded expectations in his performance appraisals, completed hundreds of projects, and made the SOE systems more secure while at the SOE. "[I]t seems as though those who do the right thing in this environment, in this office, are penalized, and those who keep their mouth shut are rewarded," he said.

Freid is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the SOE office for wrongful termination. 

Statements from Cowles, who has been the Orange County SOE for 26 years, were provided to Just the News on Monday, saying, "We take all cybersecurity allegations very seriously and have performed and paid for thorough investigations to ensure the security of elections data and voter information.

"I want to be very clear that there has been no data or security breach nor improper use of voter and employee information.

"Additionally, we have been made aware the former employee has obtained counsel and, in anticipation of any pending litigation, I'm unable to comment further. I do look however forward to the process playing out and reaching its just resolution."

The former official didn't respond to a request for comment.