Montgomery County, Maryland Council member Hans Riemer thought he had attained a great achievement. This was after the 2012 Open Government bill was passed. The bill requires that all county departments make public records more available and accessible through a central Web portal.
Back in 2014, Riemer was running for reelection in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction. He urged his people that they had the right to know what the government was doing. The issue has now taken a different turn. More than 200,000 email addresses of people receiving newsletters and other information from the county government were made public on the county’s website.
Shortly after re-evaluating the situation, Riemer and some of his colleagues realized that they had opened the portals of government a bit too wide.
The case is a good example of the competition of interests that exists between government transparency and personal privacy.
More than 90,000 of the email addresses published on DataMontgomery will be pulled back from public view. This is after majority of council members ordered the attorney to remove the emails. The council members include Reimer, Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Sidney Katz (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice.
DataMontgomery is a portal that was created under Riemer’s bill. Any information released through a Maryland Public Information Act request was intended to be published on the portal. Legislators who authorized the elimination of the data said that the email owners might be potential targets of spammers.
The Council President Roger Berliner said that the vast collection of emails was like a treasure trove for marketers. By pulling the email addresses, the 2012 law would be violated. However, Riemer pointed out that the decision was forced by crucial circumstances.
He also pointed out that privacy concerns outweighed the public interest served by mass distribution of the addresses. As a result, he has drafted an amendment to the Open Government law.
The amendment is meant to stop such email disclosures in the future. It will be introduced at the council’s session on the 4th of April.