The data grab

Trump panel searches for ev­i­dence to back up his claims

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Brenda Blagg Brenda Blagg is a free­lance colum­nist and long­time jour­nal­ist in Northwest Arkansas. Email her at bren­da­jblagg@gmail.com.

Arkansas usu­ally wants to fin­ish first.

But maybe this state shouldn’t have been the first to com­ply with a fed­eral com­mis­sion’s re­quest to turn over voter data.

Other states have re­fused and the is­sue is be­ing lit­i­gated. A fed­eral judge in Washington heard ar­gu­ments last week on whether to block the col­lec­tion of voter data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

A watch­dog group, the Elec­tronic Pri­vacy In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, filed the law­suit chal­leng­ing what it calls “un­prece­dented” White House in­va­sion of Amer­i­cans’ pri­vacy.

The White House cre­ated the com­mis­sion ap­par­ently to in­ves­ti­gate “voter fraud” al­le­ga­tions pri­mar­ily from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who is still smart­ing over the fact that Democrat Hil­lary Clin­ton so de­cid­edly won the pop­u­lar vote.

In the pres­i­dent’s mind, the vote had to have been “rigged.” It just isn’t enough for him to have won the Elec­toral Col­lege vote and the of­fice of pres­i­dent.

The Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion In­tegrity re­cently asked the sec­re­taries of state to pro­vide, by July 14, spe­cific vot­ers’ in­for­ma­tion: names, ad­dresses, birth dates, po­lit­i­cal party af­fil­i­a­tions, the last four dig­its of their So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, felony con­vic­tions and mil­i­tary sta­tus, voter his­tory since 2006, voter reg­is­tra­tion in other states and over­seas cit­i­zen in­for­ma­tion.

Arkansas’ Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Mark Martin didn’t give Trump’s new com­mis­sion all the in­for­ma­tion he has about all of us Arkansas vot­ers, but Martin did turn over more data than some state vot­ers might like. He did so, as­sert­ing the data he re­leased is what any Arkansan could have got­ten un­der the state’s Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

Martin is on solid ground there, even if his quick com­pli­ance to this re­quest doesn’t match his fre­quent re­fusals to grant var­i­ous Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests from Arkansas cit­i­zens.

Martin has been far from a friend to the FOI dur­ing his ten­ure as sec­re­tary of state, of­ten deny­ing ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion that should have been made pub­lic un­der the law.

He could eas­ily have waited out the fed­eral court de­ci­sion on whether a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion will stall de­liv­ery of any of the data to the White House.

For the record, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, also a Repub­li­can, took a different ap­proach. He said on Mon­day he is not a fan of pro­vid­ing any data to the com­mis­sion in Washington.

“Even though it is pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion and any­one can get it … I just don’t want to fa­cil­i­tate the pro­vid­ing of that in­for­ma­tion to a fed­eral database. I don’t think that’s help­ful for us,” he said.

That’s re­ally the big­gest prob­lem with col­lect­ing all this voter in­for­ma­tion in one place within the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, avail­able for any num­ber of pur­poses.

At least, po­ten­tial for­eign hack­ers have pre­vi­ously had to break into dozens of different col­lec­tion sys­tems to amass the same data for what­ever ne­far­i­ous pur­pose they might have.

Nev­er­the­less, Arkansas state law does al­low any Arkansan to have the par­tic­u­lar data Martin so read­ily re­leased to the com­mis­sion Trump cre­ated.

Im­por­tantly, Martin did not pro­vide par­tial So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, felony con­vic­tions, mil­i­tary sta­tus and driver’s li­cense num­bers — all of it in­for­ma­tion his of­fice deemed con­fi­den­tial.

Also, the vot­ing his­tory in­for­ma­tion does not re­veal for whom some­one voted.

The more generic voter in­for­ma­tion — names, ad­dresses, which pri­mary some­one voted in, how fre­quently they vote — has been float­ing in state and na­tional cir­cles for­ever.

Any­one who ob­jects to that sort of in­for­ma­tion be­ing re­leased to the pub­lic should have ob­jected long ago.

The data is al­ready in the hands of many, many peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly any­one hav­ing any or­ga­ni­za­tional role in party pol­i­tics and in spe­cific cam­paigns.

For a to­ken fee to the state, the in­for­ma­tion is avail­able on a com­puter disk.

The data mined from the disk is, for ex­am­ple, what guides a Demo­cratic can­di­date or can­vasser past a Repub­li­can house­hold and on to more re­cep­tive Demo­cratic vot­ers — and vice versa.

It also di­rects phone bank calls to the peo­ple spe­cific can­di­dates want to turn out to vote. Such screen­ing is just part of the mod­ern po­lit­i­cal process.

Al­most cer­tainly, there will be some at­tempt in the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion to change the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act to limit ac­cess to this sort of data.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties will cer­tainly op­pose such a re­stric­tion, as will those of us who gen­er­ally fa­vor open gov­ern­ment.

The fault isn’t with an Arkansas law that has, for more than 50 years, given the cit­i­zens of this state ac­cess to pub­lic in­for­ma­tion.

The fault is in­stead with this pres­i­dent’s re­fusal to ac­cept the re­sults of last year’s gen­eral elec­tion and his spe­cial com­mis­sion’s de­sire to gather this sort of in­for­ma­tion — and more sen­si­tive data — in one place to be used for un­cer­tain pur­poses.

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