Thursday, August 16, 2007

Protect your privacy from Loudoun Politics

Just received correspondence from Supervisor Jim Burton (I - Blue Ridge District in Loudoun) regarding a FOIA request for all his constituents' email addresses....

"Last week, I received an email from Ms. Milari Madison of Waterford Virginia (a
Catoctin District resident and financial contributor to the Albright campaign, opposing Burton
). Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA), Ms. Madison requested the following records:

* Any and all newsletters and other mass communications sent by Supervisor Jim
Burton in the last two years to constituents or other recipients via
email addresses;
* A list of all the recipient names and email addresses to which they were sent.

...In an email this morning which Ms. Madison copied to, as well as Board of Supervisor candidates Jack Ryan, Michael Firetti, Geary Higgins, and Mark Albright, Ms. Madison chose not to allow recipients of my emails to opt-out of her FOIA request. Thus, I will have to supply her with the names and email addresses of anyone to whom I have sent a newsletter or other mass communication by email."

On the one hand, this sounds like an utter invasion of privacy, misuse of the FOIA act, shallow and desperate politics, etc. On the other hand, if you've supplied the government your contact information, be sure to understand this contact information may and will end up everywhere - available to DHS, CIS, the FBI, CIA, the DoS, to the Sanitation Board, and to essentially all Government employees. Now there's legislation and protocol that should dictate what this information is actually used for, but I really don't think these email addresses should be actually supplied to a private citizen for their unrestricted use (for personal or business reasons). It sounds like a very quick way to build a mailing list for all sorts of reasons; for competitive politics, for soliciting, for profit/resale - I fully expect my email to absorb more spam incursions as a result of the unregulated release of information like this.

So there's three messages. (1) If you supply email addresses to others, be sure the addresses are ones you wouldn't mind seeing on the front page of the Washington Post, New York Times, and Manila Daily. (2) If you're in a business that could use great local mailing lists, execute FOIA requests like this (I should've thought of this earlier!) while they're available. (3) Practice Internet Safety in all aspects of your online activity, as instructed by Loudoun Computer Training and Online Safety Experts at Whizkids and the Dadministrator Internet Safety Blog.


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