My view: Utah voter list: Time to stop putting citizens’ lives at risk

By Ron Mortensen

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

The Media Coalition’s extreme and uncompromising position resulted in an individual buying and posting the entire Utah voter list to the Internet despite both written and verbal warnings that this would happen.

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The Utah Media Coalition is responsible for placing the safety and security of 1.5 million Utah registered voters at risk by insisting that their personal identifying information, including full names, addresses, phone numbers and full birth dates, be available to anyone willing to pay $1,050 for a copy of the Utah voter list.

The Media Coalition’s extreme and uncompromising position resulted in an individual buying and posting the entire Utah voter list to the Internet despite both written and verbal warnings that this would happen.

This in turn resulted in many Utahns facing potentially life-threatening situations because they can now be readily located by those wishing to do them harm. This includes domestic violence victims, witnesses in child-abuse trials, law enforcement officers, judges, the LDS Church’s general authorities and other high-profile individuals, members of the U.S. Special Forces and their families, and parents and their adopted children.

Senior citizens are now at even more risk for scams because of the media’s disregard for their safety, and millions of Utahns face greater risks of financial fraud, identity theft and medical ID theft now that their personal identifying information is online.

Media Coalition members failed to inform Utahns that their personal information is on the Web. In fact, it was only after I posted a story on alternative media, Examiner.com, that Utahns realized what had been done to them largely thanks to Facebook and Twitter posts of the article.

Even then, with limited exceptions, members of the Media Coalition only carried a single story on the release of the list. In most cases, that story placed the full blame for the release on the individual who legally posted the list and on efforts by state Sen. Karen Mayne to prevent further postings to the Internet.

The reporting by members of the Media Coalition conspicuously failed to note that Mayne’s bill allows the media to have full access to the list and authorizes the media to publish the personal information of everyone on the list.

The media has not carried any stories warning registered voters of the risk to their personal safety and security even though they carried multiple such stories when the Health Department had a data breach.

Nor has the media covered the personal stories of those impacted by the posting of the voter list. In fact, with only very limited exceptions, members of the Media Coalition ignored a press conference where a domestic violence victim told how the posting of the list had affected her.

The media also, again with only limited exceptions, failed to report on Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings’ call for the state to stop selling voters’ personal information and his willingness to prosecute those misusing the information once the Legislature passes HB302S01.

The media needs to start reporting this story even if it harms its efforts to keep the voter list public. It needs to let registered voters know that their information is on a public website and that they have to contact utvoters.com as soon as possible in order to get their personal identifying information removed from its site.

In addition, the Utah Media Coalition must stop opposing HB302S01, which (1) makes all voters’ birth dates a private record and (2) allows voters to make their records private so they won’t ever be sold again.

If the media defeats HB302S01, it will leave current voters with no choice but to cancel their voter registration, as some have already done, and it will strongly discourage unregistered voters from ever registering to vote.

Ronald Mortensen, Ph.D., Bountiful, Utah, is a retired United States foreign service officer. He writes extensively on personal privacy issues and has testified before the United States Congress on identity theft.

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