Our Opinion: PA makes right call on ‘hacking’ accusation

Cole County's prosecutor made the correct decision earlier this month not to seek criminal charges against a reporter who was accused by the governor of hacking into a state website to steal information and harm Missourians.

To us and many others, Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson's decision to not charge the St. Louis Post- Dispatch reporter was the obvious decision.

In October 2021, Gov. Mike Parson called for the Post- Dispatch to be prosecuted for uncovering security flaws on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, claiming the newspaper's actions could cost Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars.

The flap started when, as we previously reported in an Associated Press story, the Post- Dispatch reported a website set up for the public to search the credentials of individual educators exposed Social Security numbers. The numbers were visibly embedded in the code that tells the computer how to display a page, which can be viewed by pressing the F12 key on Apple and Microsoft operating systems.

The reporter viewed three Social Security numbers, the newspaper reported. The Post-Dispatch informed the department and refrained from publishing a story about the issue until the data was no longer available.

Parson told other media after the Post-Dispatch report came out that the reporter who found the issue "was a hacker and that viewing the data was a crime." He referred the case to Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Locke Thompson and the Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate.

Thompson declined to prosecute, but, unfortunately, made the following comment when announcing his decision: "There is an argument to be made that there was a violation of law."

We disagree, and we suspect this was Locke's way of throwing a bone to the state's top officeholder, a fellow Republican.

From what we've seen, the Post-Dispatch and their reporter did exactly what newspapers are supposed to do in their role as watchdogs. Any other suggestion is an assault on our free press and an insult to Missourians.

News Tribune