Online Voter Information and Privacy

Donny-Osmond-007Did you ever want to know Donny Osmond’s birthday, along with his voter registration status? Now you can find out, through a simple website which has posted the entire Utah state voting roll to the internet in easily searchable form. What if you’re looking in Colorado, Connecticut, or a half dozen other states? Their voter rolls are online too, sometimes with additional information like addresses.

Is this troubling? It’s one thing to post Donny Osmond’s birthday to the internet; that information is on Wikipedia anyway. It’s more troubling to post the private information of tens of thousands of everyday people, many of whom may have no idea that this online database exists.

The website pooh-poohs potential privacy concerns and touts the potential value of this information — it could help in genealogical projects, for instance. The site also points out that this information is legally available already as public records which anyone could order. That is troubling itself (it illustrates what kind of information marketing companies and others could be buying right now).

But I’m also not convinced by the “this is available anyway” argument. As scholars like Dan Solove and Danielle Citron have pointed out, sometimes structural barriers and transaction costs create a sort of informal, de-facto privacy protection, which everyday citizens may depend on. When a company acts to strip away those barriers, it threatens everyone’s privacy.

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6 Responses

  1. Tom Slee says:

    this information is legally available already as public records which anyone could order – See more at:

    But would you get ads to chat with Asian women? Or free criminal background checks? Or one trick for a flat stomach?

    I think not.

  2. Tom Slee says:

    Darn that cut and paste suffix.

  3. GE says:

    I always forget the year my parents were born. Problem solved!

  4. i don't like it says:

    Just yesterday, unrelated to this post, I stumbled upon the site hosting this information for Colorado, where I am registered to vote.

    I find it very disturbing that all of this info is online and so easily accessed if you know a person’s last name. I was able to look up addresses for dozens of people I know, and I could have kept going. Many of those listings have phone numbers with them.

  5. Tom Alciere says:

    That’s my website. There is a sort of psychological thing going on. Everybody has a legal right to know this information.
    Let’s say your date asks why you oppose legalizing gonculators, when you’re a Vegetarian, and the Vegetarians Party is totally supports legalizing gonculators. Besides, why haven’t you voted except in presidential years, if you care so much? You ask where your date got the information. If it required a trip to a bureaucracy or a payment, you might scold your date, but not if it is freely available on line. My thing is, they type their own name into a search engine and one of the results displays their own name, birth date, telephone number and home address. That’s an eye catcher and brings in traffic. I could probably make more money if I knew what I was doing.