Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin reiterated its position on the privacy rights of survivors of domestic violence in the release of petitions to recall Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch. In a letter to the Government Accountability Board and to state Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, the ACLU of Wisconsin asked for privacy rights of confidential electors be extended to any searchable database that may be available to the public.
The ACLU of Wisconsin wrote that state law protects the privacy rights of confidential electors in other public documents such as the election poll lists. Those same protections should be extended to other electoral public documents such as the recall petitions. Confidential electors should not have to surrender their free speech and assembly rights to participate in their democracy.
While scanned PDF copies of recall petitions are easy to access but difficult to search, a database of petition signers makes identifying individual names and addresses very easy to find. In this case, survivors of domestic violence and targets of stalking have a clear public safety interest in having their information redacted from a searchable database. Similarly, it should be easy to redact the information of confidential electors from a database as opposed to hard copies of over a million petition signatures.
The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to urge the GAB to appropriately balance the competing public interests of electoral integrity and transparency and political speech and association by redacting the information of confidential electors from any electronic data file before it is disclosed as a public record. Further, the ACLU of Wisconsin urges the GAB to refuse any cross-checking of data with other government agencies.
We understand that the GAB has received a variety of questions and complaints from Wisconsinites on a variety of data privacy concerns. After the news media broke the news on Tuesday night that the PDF documents were available online, the GAB’s public voicemail boxes were full and people were unable to leave a message with their concerns. We hope that the GAB will provide a process to hear the privacy concerns of Wisconsinites before constructing a searchable database and at the minimum, shield the information of the confidential electors who already receive privacy protections under state law.
If there are confidential electors who are concerned about the disclosure of their information in the release of recall petition documents or electronic data files, they can share their stories with the ACLU of Wisconsin by filing a complaint with our office.
Media: Coverage of this topic before the PDF copies of the petitions were posted online included an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, an interview on the Wisconsin Radio Network and TMJ 620 AM in Milwaukee, and on NBC 15 in Madison and TMJ-4 and Fox News 6 in Milwaukee. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the Attorney General’s opinion about the public nature of the petitions. However journalists tweeted from the press conference that the AG clarified that redacting some information on the petitions based on public safety concerns was up to the GAB’s discretion. This opinion was echoed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Reactions to the posting of PDF copies included a story on NBC 15 and NBC 26 in Green Bay.
We will share more media coverage of this issue soon.