Public info on government email lists could go under wraps

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People signed up for email alerts from their city regarding such things as snow emergencies or the availability of city council meeting agendas, are most likely unaware that the contact information they provide is considered public information.

“I don’t think people sign up for snow emergency notifications with the expectation that their email address could be used for commercial or political purposes,” Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) told the House Civil Law Committee Wednesday. He sponsors HF20 that would classify the following data as private when received voluntarily by a government entity for notification or informational purposes:

  • telephone numbers;
  • personal email; and
  • Internet user name, password and Internet protocol address.

A long-time champion of data practices issues, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) said that by deeming the information private data, people with a different viewpoint would not have access to the same audience as the city and there would be no way for residents to correct errors of fact.

“My concern is if the city sends out information that isn’t accurate, what would be the duty of local units of government to right a wrong? … There is a saying: you can’t fight city hall; but in this case, you can’t correct city hall. …. How could someone wanting to tell their side of the story get it to the same universe?”

Holberg wants assurance that all notifications would be available on a city’s website, so that those opting out of the email alert system would still have access to that information.

The bill was held over and could be referred for a hearing in the House Data Practices Subcommittee. The Senate companion, SF60, sponsored by Sen. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada), has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.