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White House releases sensitive personal information of voters

By: CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM, The Washington Post
July 14, 2017 Updated: July 16, 2017 at 7:23 am
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FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2016 file photo, a ballot box is set for residents to vote at midnight in Dixville Notch, N.H. A request for detailed information about every voter in the U.S. from President Donald Trump's voting commission is getting a rocky reception in the states. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

The Trump White House on Thursday made public a trove of emails it received from voters offering comment on its Election Integrity Commission. The commission drew widespread criticism when it emerged into public view by asking for personal information, including addresses, partial Social Security numbers, and party affiliation, on every voter in the country.

It further outraged voters by planning to post that information publicly.

Voters directed that outrage toward the Trump White House and the voter commission, often using profanity-laced language in the emails released this week, 112 pages of them.

"You will open up the entire voting population to a massive amount of fraud if this data is in any way released," wrote one voter.

"Many people will get their identity stolen, which will harm the economy," wrote another.

"I respectfully request, as an American-born citizen legally eligible to vote for two decades, that you leave my voter data and history alone, do not publish it, and do nothing with it," said another.

Unfortunately for these voters and others who wrote in, the Trump administration did not redact any of their personal information from the emails before releasing them to the public. In some cases, the emails contain not only names, but email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and places of employment of people worried about such information being made available to the public.

The Washington Post is not publishing any of this information, because it does not appear that the individuals were aware their comments would be shared by the White House. The emails were sent to the address that the administration asked Secretaries of State to send data files to.

"This request is very concerning," wrote one. "The federal government is attempting to get the name, address, birth date, political party, and Social Security number of every voter in the country." That email, published by the White House, contained the sender's name and home address.

"DO NOT RELEASE ANY OF MY VOTER DATA PERIOD," wrote one voter whose name and email address was published by the White House.

"Beefed up the security on this email address yet?" asked another voter whose name and email address were also published by the White House.

"The request for private voter information is offensive," wrote one voter whose name, home address and email address were published by the White House.

Federal agencies often solicit and release public comments on proposed legislation. Regulations.gov, the federal government's clearing house for public comments, includes a detailed set of guidelines explaining how to submit comments, what type of personal information is collected, and how that information may be used.

"Some agencies may require that you include personal information, such as your name and email address, on the comment form," the website explains. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance warns commenters to "submit only information that you wish to make available publicly."

Similarly, the FTC tells commenters that "published comments include the commenter's last name and state/country as well as the entire text of the comment. Please do not include any sensitive or confidential information."

The White House does not appear to have issued any such public guidelines or warnings prior to releasing the emails, all of which appear to have been sent to the Election Integrity Commission's email address as listed in a letter sent to state secretaries of state.

A spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence who previously responded to inquiries about the voter commission did not immediately return a request for comment.

While the letter invited secretaries of state to send comments and voter data via that email address, the White House now says that "any member of the public wishing to submit written comments for the Commission's consideration may do so via email" at that address, ElectionIntegrityStaff@ovp.eop.gov. It warns that "the Commission may post such written comments publicly on our website, including names and contact information that are submitted."

The page that warning is contained on was published on July 13. The emails published by the White House were written between June 29 and July 11.

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