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Legislators should be making more information available to public, not less

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Beware politicians trying to limit transparency in government, especially when they want to maintain their own access to information but deny it to the public.

One such effort is underway in Hartford, where Proposed Bill 5507 would make voter registration data available only to “candidates, candidate committees, and political committees.”

Bill 5507 is a bad bill. Unless, for example, the Sierra Club is considered a “political committee,” it couldn’t obtain voter registration data to alert citizens to something that Hartford might be doing that the club considered a threat to the environment.

Bill 5507 includes one good provision, clause (4), which states that any release of voter registration data should not include “birth date and year, motor vehicle operator’s license number, Social Security number and signature.” It limits disclosure to “(A) name, (B) residential and mailing address, if different, (C) phone number, if any, and (D) party affiliation, if any.”

Limiting disclosure to contact information only prevents disclosure of data that could be used for identity theft.

The rest of the bill is unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst.

Clause (2) would “prohibit the use of such data for commercial purposes.” What if the Sierra Club wanted to use data to attract members and market subscriptions to its magazine. Would that be “commercial?” Republicans in particular should oppose measures that unnecessarily restrict commerce.

Clause (3) contains three provisions, all of which would expand red tape in government. First, it would require recipients of data to “register with the Secretary of the State.” This is unnecessary. Just a request for information constitutes practical registration.

Second, it would require a recipient to state its “purpose for use of such information.” Why should anyone have to justify to government its intended use of contact information only? This smacks of an assault upon the Bill of Rights.

Third, it would require that a recipient of data “consent to not further disclosing such information.” Again, why restrict the free flow of contact information?

Establishing requirements to register, state a purpose, and provide consent all entail government paper-pushing to collect and maintain evidence of compliance. In addition, if requirements are established, government has an obligation to enforce them, further expanding governmental unnecessary functions and increasing costs. Republicans who believe in limited government should oppose clause (3).

Bill 5507 is hopelessly naive in an era when social media companies such as Facebook are vacuuming up vast troves of personal information far beyond mere contact information. Rather than wasting money on the bureaucratic routines of Bill 5507, it would be better to spend it ensuring the security of government data to prevent hackers form obtaining it and using it for nefarious purposes.

Open records laws are fundamental to genuine democracy. How can citizens be informed and involved if legislators are hiding the ball?

Bill 5507 is especially pernicious, since it restricts elections-related information. It gives politicians and their operatives an advantage over the public, rendering elections an insiders’ game.

Any limit on open public records laws should be carefully considered in terms of establishing precedents which might be cited as justification for further undesirable limitations. Legislators in Hartford should be looking for ways to make more information available to the public, not less.

Red Jahncke is president of The Townsend Group Intl, LLC in Greenwich.

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