Utah lawmakers want to change the way your voter information is sold

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11 2014 8:41 a.m. MST

The Utah State Capitol on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News Archives

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah lawmakers plan to introduce legislation at the 2014 Legislature to change the law that allows the state government to sell voter information — including birth dates, cellphone numbers and addresses — for $1,050.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said Friday they are concerned about the potential for misuse and even white-collar crime.

The information is already posted on at least one website, utvoters.com, in a database easily searchable by alphabet.

“Someone did something so inappropriate that’s in our face. We need to fix this now,” Mayne said of the motivation to tackle the issue this year.

Tom Alciere from New Hampshire operates utvoters.com and sees his legal purchase of a copy of the database as something other than “inappropriate.”

Alciere says he's "making an honest dollar by getting public information that people are selling for a fee and making it available for free."

“Instead of setting up a paywall, which I don’t know how to do, I just posted everything on static HTML pages and put advertising on them,” he said.

Alciere has created similar pages for other states. He said Ohio publishes the information on a website and is downloadable by county. That state, for example, publishes a year of birth and an address but no phone number, he said.

Alciere outlined multiple uses for his site, including genealogical purposes.

“These people did not break the law, so we need to change the law to make sure there are gatekeepers to what it’s used for,” Mayne said.

Mayne’s SB36 would restrict access to the database so it could only be acquired for “political, scholarly, journalistic or governmental purposes.”

Under the proposed law, the lists could not be used for commercial purposes such as advertising, solicitation, sale or marketing. The information also could not be reproduced in an electronic, print, visual or audio format, and it could not be used to harass someone else.

Commercial use, under the proposed statute, would be punishable by a class B misdemeanor.

Perry said he also planned to include language that would make it so dates of birth would no longer be able to be acquired. He said a simple age may be sufficient.

At the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, state director of elections Mark Thomas said he and other officials have been concerned about the potential for misuse of some of the data since he joined the office in 2005.

Alciere’s website, he said, appears to be the first of its kind to publish a free, searchable list of Utah’s data.

Thomas said politicians and political campaigns usually purchase the information. On average, 25 copies of the list are sold each year, he said.

“It is something that should be available to candidates and political parties and yet not making it so readily available that it can just be thrown up on a website for anyone to download,” Thomas said. “We understand why people are concerned by that.”

Gov. Gary Herbert’s information is not a part of the database, governor’s spokesman Nate McDonald confirmed.

McDonald said that was because of a previous, specific threat to Herbert. The governor requested to have his information removed from the list because of the threat, McDonald said.

Thomas said anyone can request that a county clerk have their information removed because of security concerns, and it is common for people like high-ranking public officials, judges and undercover agents to do so.

He said there is no threshold to be met. Clerks make a decision based on the situation.

Alciere said state lawmakers in their attempt to change the law can’t put “the genie back in the bottle.”

“The information is already out there,” he said. “You cannot retrieve all of last year’s phone books. If you’re in last year’s phone books, that’s it. You can’t make people throw it away.”

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com

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