The White House just responded to concerns it would release voters’ sensitive personal information by releasing a bunch of voters’ sensitive personal information.
Last month, the White House’s “election integrity” commission sent out requests to every state asking for all voters’ names, party IDs, addresses, and even the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, among other information. The White House then said this information would be made available to the public.
A lot of people did not like the idea, fearing that their personal information could be made public. So some sent emails to the White House, demanding that it rescind the request.
This week, the White House decided to make those emails from concerned citizens public through the commission's new website. But the administration made a big mistake: It didn’t censor any of the personal information — such as names, email addresses, actual addresses, and phone numbers — included in those emails.
In effect, the White House just released the sensitive personal information of a lot of concerned citizens giving feedback to their government. That’s made even worse by the fact that the White House did this when the thing citizens were complaining about was the possibility that their private information would be made public.
As of Friday afternoon, the emails are still uncensored and available on the White House’s website. They include all sorts of feedback, from concerns about privacy to outright insults of the Trump administration. One email just links to an image of the terrifying pornographic meme Goatse. (Do not Google this if you value your eyes.)
“DO NOT RELEASE ANY OF MY VOTER DATA, PERIOD,” said one person whose full name and email address were subsequently released in the collection of emails.
The White House website does now warn about the possibility of personal information going public: “Please note that the Commission may post such written comments publicly on our website, including names and contact information that are submitted.” But it’s not clear if the people who sent emails to the White House knew of this before the commission’s website went up this week.
It isn’t atypical to release some personal information with public comments. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, posts commenters’ addresses on its filing website. But the White House’s move quickly caught people’s attention on social media.
They exposed peoples addresses and email addresses, I'm sure so these folks could be harassed/intimidate others— Jeremy M (@thismyshow) July 14, 2017
Why did they not (b)(6) the phone numbers?— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) July 14, 2017
A spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence, who’s helping head the commission, defended the move.
“These are public comments, similar to individuals appearing before commission to make comments and providing name before making comments,” Marc Lotter, press secretary to the vice president, said. “The Commission’s Federal Register notice asking for public comments and its website make clear that information ‘including names and contact information’ sent to this email address may be released.”
The White House’s “election integrity” commission has been criticized more broadly because it’s widely believed to be an attempt to justify voter suppression. The group was set up after President Donald Trump, on Twitter and elsewhere, complained that he lost the popular vote due to millions of fraudulent votes. The best research shows that voter fraud is incredibly rare in the US — in 2016, for example, an investigation in North Carolina found that just one out of nearly 4.8 million total votes in the state was potentially a credible case of in-person voter fraud.
But Republicans, with Trump now included, have used exaggerated fears of voter fraud to pass legislation that would add new barriers to voting — which disproportionately affects low-income and minority voters who just so happen to lean Democrat. For more on all that, read Vox’s explainer.