Thursday, May 03, 2012

Arrogant Post-Star launches outrageous campaign against privacy

The Post-Star engages in a lot of self-righteous crusades, perhaps as reflection of the paper's increasingly desperate attempts to stay relevant in the midst of a changing media landscape and self-cannibalization. One of the most prominent is related to teen drinking/binge drinking/drunk driving, which the paper dishonestly conflates as a single issue - a crusade so carefully demolished by Mark Wilson here and here.

More recently, the daily has taken the Lake George School District (LGSD) to task on a pair of controversies.

At a public hearing on the budget, LGSD asked for people who wanted to receive budget information *from the district* to sign up to an email newsletter. Those interested provided their email addresses (*to the district*).

But a critic of the school board inexplicably felt he was somehow entitled to those email addresses, so he could give these people his version of things. The Post-Star, even more inexplicably, backed his Freedom of Information request, under some demented notion of "transparency."

Apparently, private citizens who want to stay informed actually owe transparency to the presumptuous newspaper. Who knew?!

Eventually, a quasi-public, two-person body called the Committee on Open Government (COG) decreed that these private emails were in fact public information.

In a recent blog piece, the daily's pooh bah Ken Tingley again denounced LGSD superintendent Patrick Dee for "playing games." He agreed with the COG that decreeing the email addresses public information did not constitute "an unwanted invasion of privacy."

According to Tingley, the superintendent made the issue about privacy when it should be about transparency. There is no privacy risk here.

Dee should not have dithered or played games. Instead, he should've been direct. He should've said HELL NO. He should have said that the district will not give the paper the email addresses of private citizens. He should have told the paper that since the *private* emails weren't given to The Post-Star, IT'S NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS.

I believe in transparency for public officials and generally agree with most of the COG's decisions. But I also believe that private citizens should be able to maintain a level of privacy judged by their own discretion, not by an unaccountable newspaper or a mysterious two-person panel.

Mr. Tingley says there is no threat to privacy. He implied that the paper wants the private emails not for any actual newsworthy purpose, but just to set a precedent that they are public information.

He is dead wrong.

What the paper intends to do with the email is completely irrelevant. Once the precedent is set that private emails are public information, then anyone can get them via a Freedom of Information request and do whatever they want, including publishing them in print or online. Clearly, the activist in Lake George wants them so he can spam people with unwanted propaganda. How Tingley can say that this is not an invasion of privacy defies any sensible analysis.

I make no value judgment on the worthiness of the activist's campaign. If he wants to get people's private email addresses, he has every right to do what LGSD did: ask people for them so they can choose of their own free will who they want to share their private details with. Instead, he's choosing the lazy way of essentially trying to steal them.

Ironically, The Post-Star's crusade will deter participation more fully in civic bodies, the lack of which it often bemoans. Many people may want to stay informed on public issues, but may want not to do so at the cost of potentially broadcasting their email addresses to the world's spammers.

If I were Superitendent Dee, I would appeal this via the courts. Anything else is a violation of trust given to the district by the people who voluntarily submitted their email addresses under the expectation that it would be for internal use only.

If The Post-Star really wants more transparency, they should do a little digging on the opaque workings of Fred Monroe's taxpayer-funded Local Government Review Board... though since the Review Board and the newspaper share the same activist agenda, that kind of "transparency" is pretty unlikely.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Very well said.