How Your Personal Info Could End Up Online - NBC Connecticut

How Your Personal Info Could End Up Online

Voting records of 2.3 million Connecticut residents are searchable online

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    Voting records of 2.3 million Connecticut residents are searchable on the Internet. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015)

    The world wide web has ensnared details about all of us, including voting records that publicize personal information that many of us consider to be private.

    Patti Specter was curious. She "Googled" herself last fall and was shocked to see what was out there. Her biggest concern is the site connvoters.com, which lists her legal name, address, phone number, political party affiliation and even the dates she voted.

    Specter was so upset, she made several calls to Hartford and D.C.

    State Sen. Paul Doyle responded to her right away, explaining that the information comes from the Secretary of the State and is commonly used by political parties.

    "That's where we get our database to send out 10,000 pieces saying, 'Vote for Doyle,'" said the longtime state lawmaker.

    Doyle takes issue with those who use the list for non-political purposes, like the connvoters website. It's maintained by Tom Alciere, of Nashua, New Hampshire, so the Troubleshooters trekked north to talk to him.

    A one-time New Hampshire state representative, Alciere set up connvoters.com about two years ago after purchasing the voter rolls – all 2.3 million records – for $300.

    "There are 3,000 to 4,000 visits every day," he said. "That's more than two of them every minute."

    Alciere said restrictions on acquiring the list vary from state to state. Some release the records for political use only, while others will only provide the list to registered voters. Ohio publishes the data on the state website.

    Alciere maintains voter sites for eight states that have no restrictions, but said there are countless ways people can access the data online.

    "Other websites are making use of the same information, but they're charging subscriptions and a charging money for it. I'm making the money off the commercial advertising," he said.

    Alciere said he's simply trying to make a living, but has received plenty of pushback from people angry about what he's posting.

    When asked whether he believes the voter information ought to be public, he said he preferred to stay out of the conversation.

    Connecticut law requires the state to make the voter list available. In fact, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the rolls have been open to the public since colonial times. What's different today is the ease of access.

    "This is just one part of the data we release; there's a lot of information we release. I think the public does have a right to know, honestly," said Merrill.

    However, Merrill said she is not comfortable with the way Alciere goes about disseminating the information.

    "What this guy did seems very wrong to me, getting people all upset, the idea that the government is selling your information. Well, that's not really what's going in here," she said.

    It's become a major concern among the law enforcement community.

    Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, believes the personal information of those involved in public safety should be protected, especially in light of the recent backlash against police.

    "There are people out there who would love to get access to our address to damage our properties or harm us or our family members," Matthews explained.

    Alciere said he doesn't see the problem.

    "With all the different ways that cops can find a person, including the voting list, they're complaining, here's a way a person can find a cop," he said.

    Those law enforcement addresses and phone numbers were protected until the Freedom of Information Act was amended in 2012. Now, the individual officer, judge or prosecutor has to submit a written request to his or her town clerk to suppress the information.

    Matthews believes the public's right to know has to be balanced with the privacy and protection of the people who risk their lives while serving the public.

    Any change would require an act of the legislature. It's something Doyle is trying to effect. He's sponsoring Senate Bill 27, which would stop the re-publication of the voter data on the Internet. But Doyle acknowledges there are thorny constitutional issues at play.

    Still frustrated, Specter takes solace in the fact her voice is being heard.

    "I didn't anticipate it happening, let alone happening this quickly," she said.

    Doyle's bill was taken up at a public hearing last Friday and is currently awaiting a vote in Government Administration and Elections Committee.

    You can submit a written request to Alciere to be removed from connvoters.com, but of the 2.3 million people whose information is on the website, only about 350 have chosen to do so.

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