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FOIA Shenanigans

In this morning’s E-Mail box:

From: Oregon Department of Transportation
Date: 10/16/2012
Subject: ODOT Gov Delivery list request

Dear Subscribers –

Recently, the Oregon Department of Transportation received a public records request from an elected official. The request was for a list of the email addresses of our partners, customers and stakeholders. To comply with public records law, we gave the requestor the email addresses of everyone who subscribes to receive information from the Oregon Department of Transportation through the Gov Delivery service. This list includes your email address. It does not include your name or any personally identifiable information about you.

You may receive an unsolicited email message from the requestor. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

You can unsubscribe from the Gov Delivery service at any time by clicking the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of this email. We hope that you choose to remain a subscriber and we hope you find the information that we share with you to be of value. If you have any questions, please call or email our Ask ODOT staff, 800-275-6368 or ask.ODOT@odot.state.or.us.

Sincerely,

Patrick Cooney, APR
Communications Division Administrator
Oregon Department of Transportation

So, some background. I’m on a couple of mailing lists that update you on the status of roads in certain ODOT regions. For example, when snow closes Mackensie Pass, I get an E-mail.

Apparently, one particular state Representative thought it would be funny to file an FOIA request with ODOT and get a bunch of E-mail addresses.

I don’t think it’s funny.

Representative Richardson:

I am in receipt of an E-mail this morning from the Oregon Department of Transportation regarding their release of my E-Mail address to you in response to a FOIA request.

I am a private citizen, my only interaction with ODOT are the sorts of interactions we all have: driving on the highways of our great state, and occasionally using ODOTs electronic resources (such as TripCheck) to plan such journeys. As such, I subscribe to a few of ODOTs mailing lists regarding road closures and maintenance. As someone who frequently drives from my home in Deschutes County to Portland, these E-mail notifications of road construction projects and potential weather-related closures are a valuable service, and one I’ve come to depend upon.

I am disturbed, however, that the inclusion of my E-mail address on a mailing list in response to simply requesting information from ODOT has become the subject of public record. I don’t believe the FOIA process was created to permit release of this kind of information: after all, am I to believe your office would find a FOIA request to Department of Human Services for all addresses of people who’ve requested forms for SNAP (“Food Stamps”) be considered appropriate?

Further, I notice your website has a “Subscribe to [your] EMail Newsletter Here!” link on it. Would you consider an FOIA request for that subscriber list appropriate?

I don’t believe a person’s right to privacy ends simply because they have an interaction with a government agency and request services that our taxpayer dollars are paying for. I would hope you would agree.

I would like an explanation as to what you are looking for in this data, and your justification for such a broad FOIA request. Ideally, I would ask you to publicly apologize to all the private citizens who subscribe to ODOTs various mailing lists and destroy their personal E-mail addresses that you have received. You may be entitled to request that data from the FOIA, but I don’t personally believe it is appropriate to ask for, just as I would hope you would not think the other examples stated above are considered appropriate, either.

Thank you for your time.

-Archturiat “Archer” C. Baumann

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