The Board of Elections and Confidential Information
On Tuesday, Andrew wrote about the “imminent peril” that the Board of Elections (BoE) felt that voters’ information was in.
Then Justin live-blogged the actual BoE meeting where they voted to put off the issue of making this data confidential.
What they are concerned about is some radical NH citizen posted the RI voter information to a web site and made it easy to search for people by various criteria.
So what’s the real issue here? Well, the first issue that rankled so many people was the way the BoE went about this, calling an “emergency meeting”, with the minimum 48 hours notice (actually closer to 50 hours) and no public vetting or opinion.
But what the BoE wanted to do was to make confidential was the voters’ voluntarily-supplied email address and telephone number. Not the name, not the address, not the party designation, not the date of birth. None of those are optional information and none of those were going to be protected. Should that information get out to the public? Well for one, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has already decided that all voter registration information, with the exception of social security number, must be made and kept public. (h/t Ken Block)
Why do they ask for email and phone number? I don’t know. What do they do with it? I don’t know. One thing that is known is even though the voter registration card says that the phone and email are optional, they don’t say what they’ll do with the info or who it will be given to. I think at the very least, that should be fixed. Somehow explain to people that all of their information will be given out to campaigns and candidates and anyone else who asks for it. At least let them know.
But for now, they do have the data. So what should the BoE do? Nothing and let people continue to have public access to it and let people put it up on a searchable web site? Well, that’s one option, seeing as how all the information is usually findable on the internet anyway.
As an example, I did a quick search for BoE Executive Director Robert Kando. Using no subscription services or anything underhanded, in just a few seconds, I was able to find his home address, home phone number, his age, and people who also live in his home. I’m suspecting if I cared enough and did a little more digging, an email address could also be located. It’s all information that is already public. Some have mentioned how it’s creepy to see their name and address posted so publicly. My thought on that is “how quickly we forget.” Your name and address and phone number has been publicly posted for decades. We depended on that for a long time. It was called a “phone book.” The information was available to everyone and once a year the phone company dropped off a free copy at your house. Now that information pops up on a web site and people get freaked out? If you’re really worried about your privacy, stop using “password” as your password to services and stop posting on Facebook that you’re “on vacation in Florida!” Those would seem to both be bigger privacy and security concerns than someone being able to find your address.
The BoE will convene again to specifically discuss whether to make the phone number and email address confidential (remember, according to the 4th Circuit Court, they can’t). My suggestion is that if they don’t want the public to have that information, then delete it from their databases, stop entering it in for new registrations and remove those lines from the voter registration cards. Problem solved. You can’t give out what you don’t have.