Citizen e-mails should be kept confidential

Editor,

In 1997, I signed up for my first AOL account and heard the familiar little jingle “You’ve got mail!” Now 14 years and several e-mail accounts later, I receive more e-mail than I really care to receive. According to research by the Radicati Group, the corporate user alone receives approximately 99 e-mails a day. That does not take into account any e-mail you may receive at home. Now, The Charlotte Observer would like to add theirs to the list. The newspaper is using the North Carolina Public Records law to request information municipalities have regarding residential e-mail addresses, addresses, and home telephone numbers.

Steve Gunn, the director of strategic products and audience development for The Charlotte Observer said that, “The Observer has requested the listings because we believe that many of the engaged citizens on the list would be interested in helping us improve our journalism by telling us about stories they see.”

The legislation was written to create transparency in government, making sure the media could serve as the “watchdogs” against government and the elected officials themselves operating outside of the lines of their jurisdiction, and to keep the citizenry informed.  It was not, however, created for the private marketing use of the paper, or any business for its profit.

The Charlotte Observer’s request and the existing rule, while legal, makes possible for any business or organization to request the data for their own use.  Anyone who has signed up for a town or city generated newsletter, or parks and recreation bulletin, or communicated with Town Hall about trash service would have their private information turned over to anyone who requested it.  The Observer’s Editor, Rick Thames has defended the paper’s decision and says the paper will not use the e-mail addresses to spam the recipient and echoed Gunn’s statement that it is merely to allow the public to advise the Observer on their reporting.

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 1,000 businesses members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and greater Lake Norman region is opposed to releasing individual citizen data to any organization or business, regardless of its use.  It is a violation of the trust between government and its citizenry.

Residents should feel free to contact their elected officials and enjoy communication without the fear that their private data will be used for commercial gain.  While we encourage healthy business growth and the spirit of free enterprise, the Lake Norman Chamber supports legislation which safeguards the private citizen’s personal data.

If The Charlotte Observer feels that the newspaper itself cannot adequately serve as a vehicle to solicit reader and citizen opinion, then perhaps it should turn to the option many businesses practice each week – take out an advertisement in their publication or a local paper, Internet media source, or magazine.  There are several here in the Lake Norman region, with significant market penetration and readership, which would be happy to sell any business, organization, or competing newspaper for that matter – an ad.

– Bill Russell
President of the Lake Norman
Chamber of Commerce

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