Gov. Mike Parson (R-MO) blames First Amendment for his failures

Mike Parson First Amendment St. Louis Post-Dispatch cybersecurity

Governor Mike Parson blames First Amendment for his cybersecurity failures

Republican Governor Mike Parson of Missouri was recently called to task over revelations that the state’s education department website exposed the Social Security Numbers of over 100,000 employees — including teachers and administrators — but instead of taking responsibility for his cybersecurity failures, he decided to blame the First Amendment and the free press.

Using tactics made popular by Donald Trump whenever the news media reported something negative about his presidency, Mike Parson went after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and reporter Josh Renaud for reporting something negative about his governorship — he called the reporter a “hacker” — and demanded that a criminal investigation be conducted against the reporter despite having no basis for doing so (via Business Insider):

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is demanding a criminal investigation into a journalist who found social security numbers exposed on a state website — a reaction that cybersecurity experts say makes no sense.

On Wednesday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud published a story revealing that the state’s education department website exposed the SSNs of over 100,000 employees including teachers and administrators. All Renaud had to do to view the SSNs was open “inspect element” to view the page’s source code, which anyone can do with two clicks of a mouse.

Renaud first disclosed the exposure to the state on Tuesday and waited until the issue was fixed before publishing his story — a well-established best practice in cybersecurity reporting.

But after the story went live, Parson held a press conference Thursday slamming Renaud as a “hacker” and calling on state prosecutors to conduct a criminal investigation into his report.

“We will not let this crime against Missouri teachers go unpunished,” Parson said. “They were acting against a state agency to compromise teachers’ personal information in an attempt to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.” (emphasis mine)

I think any “embarrassment” the state might experience comes from having Parson as governor, but I digress. The story continues:

Parson’s remarks have been met by widespread bewilderment and outrage from cybersecurity experts, who say Renaud disclosed the exposed data responsibly and that using a web browser’s “inspect element” tool does not constitute hacking.

“Hitting F12 in a browser is not hacking,” SocialProof Security CEO Rachel Tobac said in a tweet. “Fix your website.” Another cybersecurity researcher, Matt Blaze, admonished Parson for moving to “call the cops” on someone who “quite responsibly” disclosed the vulnerability. (emphasis mine)

Of course, this situation has NOTHING to do with computer hacking and EVERYTHING to do with Governor Mike Parson’s cybersecurity failures and his attempt to silence an unfavorable media outlet for exercising its First Amendment rights and exposing his ineptitude.

This isn’t the first time Parson has gone after our God-given constitutionally protected rights to cover up his failures.

After receiving an early endorsement from Donald Trump, Parson was facing a tougher 2020 election than he should in “red state” Missouri, so he decided to team up with the Democrat mayors of St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia to promote gun control, red flag laws, and other pre-crime legislation in order to “prevent domestic violence.”

As an alleged “conservative” state, the 2017 Missouri state legislature enacted Constitutional Carry. You’d think that with such a pro-Second Amendment law on the books, red flag and other anti-gun laws would be highly unlikely to pass, but we’re talking about a desperate Republican facing a real chance of losing his election.

So, in a move obviously aimed at protecting his incumbency — Parson was an incumbent but he wasn’t running for reelection because he became governor after former Governor Eric Greitens was forced to resign for accusations of sexual misconduct and misusing a charity he founded — the desperate Republican helped devise a plan that would essentially nullify Constitutional Carry and the Second Amendment rights of Missourians.

Mike Parson and his Democrat buddies created a plan to get around Constitutional Carry by doing away with Missouri’s “Preemption Clause” — a provision in the law that states that cities can’t make a law that violates state law. If the Preemption Clause were voided, cities would be free to pass anti-gun legislation despite the Constitutional Carry.

In a press release issued by his office at the time, Governor Mike Parson boasted of his role as protector of the Second Amendment while simultaneously defending the anti-Second Amendment scheme he and his Democrat buddies created because finding a “short-term solutions to combat violent crime” was more important — not to mention how it might help his election.

If Parson’s attack on the media sounds reminiscent of the behavior of the man who endorsed him in 2020, there’s good reason. Just like Trump attacked the media for pointing out his failures as president, Parson attacked the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for daring to point out his failures as governor.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been a frequent critic of Governor Mike Parson and they endorsed his opponent, Nicole Galloway, for governor in 2020. In their endorsement made a few weeks before the election, the editorial board of the paper explained their opposition to Parson, calling him an “accident of history” and a reluctant leader who “continually falls short.”

Despite Parson’s Trump-like accusation against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, criminal charges aren’t likely to be filed against the paper or the reporter.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in VAN BUREN v. UNITED STATES that “hacking” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act requires a person to obtain information from a computer that they can’t normally access — meaning information available on a public website is unlikely to be considered a violation of the law.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch publisher Ian Caso said in a statement that the newspaper stands by Renaud because he “did everything right,” and he pointed out how Parson is blame-shifting. “It’s regrettable the governor has chosen to deflect blame onto the journalists who uncovered the website’s problem,” Caso said.

Regardless of how things pan out, Governor Mike Parson is motivated by only one thing: shifting blame for his failures away from himself, and if that means sacrificing the First Amendment and a free press to do so, that’s a price he’s willing to pay.

Just like Donald Trump and the Trumpist Republican Party, self-preservation and political power is paramount to Mike Parson’s responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution.

No wonder Trump likes the guy.


David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.

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