EXCLUSIVE: Privacy Flaw in Recall System?

By: Brian Sikma

With the signature gathering phase of the Recall Walker effort only three days old, a flaw in the security of the system has been discovered. Under Wisconsin law there are no privacy protections for those who sign a recall petition. Those who sign a recall petition must give their name, address, and the date that they signed the document. That information could be given or sold to any political or business entity wanting a list of individuals who are opposed to Governor Scott Walker or are likely opposed to any of the reforms that he has put in place.

More ominously, someone could use the guise of the recall to gather information from complete strangers and then, with no intention of actually turning the petitions in, use that data to stalk individuals with the intent of carrying out a crime. Petition circulators are not required to register with the GAB or be certified as legitimate circulators. This stands in contrast to the practice of some municipalities to require individuals to receive certification as special registration deputies in order to register people to vote.

When asked if there was anything to prevent political opponents, potential crooks, or businesses from lifting information off of recall petitions and using it for private, malicious or criminal purposes, the Government Accountability Board admitted that no protections exist.

“There is no restriction on how recall petition information may be used,” Reid Magney, spokesman for the GAB told Media Trackers on Thursday morning. That the information is available even after the petitions are filed is due to the fact that recall petitions are a matter of public record.

The complete lack of privacy protections is concerning to some people, particularly women. Mary Jo Baas, of Liberty House Consulting, said, “I would be afraid to sign any recall petition” that could be accessed by anyone and was circulated by someone with “no real accountability.” She went on to say, “I wouldn’t want my personal information, connected with my signature and political preferences, available to just anyone.”

Yet the connecting of all that personal information is exactly what happens in a Wisconsin recall election where petitions may be circulated by anyone and when the information on those petitions may be freely used for any purpose.

Before signing a recall petition, Wisconsin citizens would do well to check the credibility of the circulator while remembering that there is nothing to prevent someone from using their personal information for a malicious or annoying purpose. Individuals looking for easy targets of criminal endeavors could find a wealth of information on recall petitions while annoying businesses and unscrupulous scammers could save themselves a lot of time and effort by simply abusing the information made public by petition signers.

This story was updated on Monday morning, 11/21, to reflect the fact that recall petitions are a matter of public record.

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