US voter data
Voter registration papers are sorted at a table during lunch hour at a high school where seniors wear able to register to vote during National Voter Registration day in Escondido, California September 22, 2015.REUTERS/Mike Blake

A database containing information on 191 million US voters has been exposed on the internet due to an incorrectly configured database, an independent computer security researcher revealed on 28 December. Researcher Chris Vickery said that the database includes the names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliations, phone numbers and emails of voters in all 50 states and in Washington DC since 2000.

The tech support specialist from Austin, Texas told Reuters he discovered the information when he was searching for data exposed online in hopes to raise awareness about data leaks. "I want our society to respect privacy more," he said. "We need serious referendum on the way private data is handled." Vickery claims he uncovered around 80 exposed databases.

According to Reuters, Vickery could not verify if the voter database had been accessed by others. Despite voter data being considered public information, a database such as the one discovered by Vickery could allow criminals looking for lists of possible targets for a variety of fraud crimes. "The alarming part is that the information is so concentrated," he said.

Vickery said he was also unable to verify who controls the database, but said he is working with US federal authorities to find the owner and have the database removed from public view. According to The Verge, Vickery, CSO and an admin at DataBreachers.net reached out to multiple political data firms to see if they had compiled the database, but none claimed ownership. Reuters reported that regulations on voter data protection varies from state to state. Some states, in fact, do not impose any restrictions on the information.

Steve Ragan, a security blogger for the security and risk management website CSO, said that Vickery's discovery is "worse" than the breach of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's voter data by a staff member of Bernie Sanders's campaign. "What Vickery has discovered is worse, because the data he discovered isn't a client score—it's a complete voter record for 191 million registered voters," Ragan wrote. "The problem is, no one seems to care that this database is out there and no one wants to claim ownership."

Should Vickery's number claims prove correct, the database would represent more than the total currently active registered voters, which numbered 142.2 million in 2014. The Verge reported that this is not the first time that voter data has been exposed this year. Millions of Georgia voters had their information sent to political parties, news organisations and a gun owner magazine by a third-party contractor earlier this year.