State Legislation To Prevent County-Held Email Addresses From Being Released Moves Forward

State Legislation To Prevent County-Held Email Addresses From Being Released Moves Forward

Several people in Montgomery County have received hundreds of thousands of email addresses from the county through public information requests

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A screenshot from "The Paperless Airplane" newsletter website. The newsletter is distributed by the county's Office of Public Information and residents can voluntarily sign up to receive it.

The state legislature is aiming this spring to stop the release of government-held email addresses and other residents’ personal information after several people in Montgomery County received email lists that contained more than 200,000 addresses through public information requests.

The Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would prevent local governments and the state from having to release email addresses through information requests while a companion bill was approved by a vote of 132-4 in the House of Delegates.

The legislation is likely to be formally approved by the General Assembly later this spring. It would allow local governments and the state to deny information requests for email addresses and phone numbers that they use to distribute government information or emergency alerts.

State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Rockville), who sponsored the Senate bill, said in an interview last week she expects the legislation will be formally approved given its support in both houses.

“This issue must be addressed urgently,” Kagan said. “This is not a legislative proposal seeking to fix a hypothetical problem—this is already a problem.”

Over the past year and a half, several individuals and others have requested and received email address lists maintained by Montgomery County Council members and the county government.

So far the following individuals have received the approximately 140,000 email addresses in the county’s Paper Airplane distribution list, which provides regular county news updates, according to county spokesman Patrick Lacefield:

  • Robert Lipman, co-leader of the pro-public campaign financing group MoCo Voters;
  • Robin Ficker, the Republican candidate for Montgomery County executive;
  • Sheridan Price, no information immediately available;
  • Jordan Cooper, a Democratic candidate for District 16 delegate;
  • Curt Uhre, chairman of the Potomac-area neighborhood group The Brickyard Coalition;
  • Danielle Meitiv, a Deomcratic at-large County Council candidate
  • “Maryland Activist,” no other information provided; and
  •  Paul Bessel, chair of the Montgomery County Charter Commission.

Lipman, Uhre, Cooper, Bessel, Meitiv and Ficker also requested and received email distribution lists that council members use to update constituents on their activities. Price requested and received only council member Roger Berliner’s email list, according to Amanda Mihill, a legislative attorney for the council. The council members’ email address lists contain more than 90,000 email addresses.

Bessel wrote in an email Thursday that he only requested the email addresses out of “curiosity.”

“I had heard some people had requested these addresses and wanted to know if they were still available,” Bessel wrote. “I don’t plan to do anything with them.”

Meanwhile, Ficker has previously said he planned to use the addresses to send emails to potential voters about his campaign. And Meitiv said on Monday that she may use the email addresses to send information about her council campaign.

She said she didn’t view the addresses any differently than access to voter rolls, which she said cost candidates about $2,700 to access. She added that many candidates will “spam” voters with paper mailers this election season and she views emails as a more environmentally-friendly way to spread information about herself.

Both the council and County Executive Ike Leggett support the proposed state legislation to limit access to the email lists.

Council President Hans Riemer said Monday residents shouldn’t have to worry about their email addresses being shared if they signed up for newsletters from the county or local leaders.

“It’s problematic if you sign up for a newsletter about trash collection, you shouldn’t end up getting unsolicited email from political candidates or companies that want to do your roofing,” Riemer said. “Currently, that’s the state of things.”

Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) was one of four county delegates to vote against the House bill. He said Monday he wanted more discussion about why email address lists maintained by politicians needed to be included in the legislation, but did agree with not releasing email addresses of people who signed up to receive emergency alerts.

The other local legislators who voted against the bill were Dels. Al Carr (D-Kensington), Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Chevy Chase) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Kensington).

In 2014, Carroll County also had to release email addresses from a distribution list maintained by county commissioners after losing a court case in which the county attempted to argue against releasing the information.

“We want government to communicate with residents,” Kagan said. “These are folks who have voluntarily signed up to share their personal information with government. While I stand for transparency in government operation … that must be reasonably balanced with the need for privacy.”

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