Secretary of State William Galvin said yesterday that Governor's Deval Patrick's new grass-roots website violated the privacy of Massachusetts voters by making their home addresses easily available to online visitors. Patrick's political committee later removed the house and apartment numbers, leaving only the street names.
"We go to great lengths to protect the confidentiality of voting lists from vendors and sales people, and we're concerned there is information out there that shouldn't be, for instance, police officers' residential addresses, deceased voters, apartment numbers of elderly voters," Galvin said. "I'm told there are people who have restraining orders on the list with their residential address."
The site, devalpatrick.com, launched three days ago, requires visitors to create a log-in and password to post opinions on an issue. During the registration process, users enter their name or phone number, and the website then provides a street address to make sure it has identified the right person.
The problem, Galvin said, is that another person's last name or phone number could be entered on the site, and the user would see the home address of anyone with that name. Also, the voter list apparently included unlisted phone numbers.
The leader of Patrick's political committee said all the information on the site was readily available elsewhere online. She said the website requires users to sign in to prevent anonymous postings.
"We want to keep the system honest," said Liz Morningstar, the committee's executive director. "We want people to really engage around issues they feel strongly about. If you feel strongly about something, you should be willing to put your first name and last initial to it."
The committee removed street and apartment numbers yesterday to protect the privacy of anyone uncomfortable with the level of detail, Morningstar said. But she added, "None of our users have said they had any concern about their own privacy."
Users can enter their telephone number to register, she said, but their number cannot be accessed by others.
Galvin said the voter list did not come from his office, which oversees elections, but a private vendor. There are 4 million registered voters across the state.
"We don't want this to have a chilling effect on people being reluctant to register to vote, and we want to make sure the information is accurate," Galvin said. "We don't want deceased people on the list. We don't want police officers and public safety officers' addresses displayed, and we especially don't want victims of domestic violence to be at risk."
Galvin said he is not sure whether the committee went far enough by removing street and apartment numbers. "We've got concerns, and I'm attempting to address them," he said.
John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said he does not understand why users are required to register. "I'm puzzled by the whole thing," he said. "Registering doesn't seem to deal with the issue of people posting anonymously, because anyone can presumably get an e-mail account and use that to post under someone else's name."
In addition, he said, even though voter information may be available elsewhere, some people "may not expect that it would be used in this manner."
The website has been described as a tool to help grass-roots supporters stay connected to government. It is financed with political donations to Patrick's political committee.
According to Morningstar, 1,700 people have registered on the website.