PhotoSometimes stuff is stolen in cleverly organized break-ins. Other times, it's just left sitting out on the street. That's more or less the case with a database of 191 million registered voters that was reportedly left exposed and unprotected on the Internet.

The wide-open database was discovered by security researcher Chris Vickery, who reported his findings to and security blog Salted Hash.

So far no one has nailed down exactly who's responsible, although fingers are beginning to point to Nation Builder, a digital campaign platform headquartered in Los Angeles. The company denies that it's responsible but says it may have contributed some of the leaked data.

“While the database is not ours, it is possible that some of the information it contains may have come from data we make available for free to campaigns," said NationBuilder founder and CEO Jim Gilliam. "From what we've seen, the voter information included is already publicly available from each state government so no new or private information was released in this database.”

“We strongly believe in making voter information more accessible to political campaigns and advocacy groups, so we provide cleaned versions of that publicly accessible information to them for free. We do not provide access to anyone for non-political purposes or that would violate any state’s laws," Gilliam said.

Public or private?

But there are varying opinion on whether all of the leaked information is legally public. The Sacramento Bee reported that California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is working with Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office to determine whether any privacy laws were broken.

California law specifies that voter data is private, according to the Bee. The nearly 18 million plus voter file is only available for political, election, scholarly, journalistic, or governmental purposes.

Other states regard voter data as public, but some place restrictions on how it may be used or distributed. The information in the database did not include Social Security numbers or financial data but could still be used for marketing campaigns or for more nefarious purposes.

The rental value of the database was estimated at $270,000 by experts Vickery consulted.

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