Parish e-mail list security addressedDec 15th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
Questions of how residents received e-mails and phone calls from several campaigns this election season—and allegations from residents that information might have come from Parish Government sources—are being addressed by the Parish Council and the Parish President’s administration. People working in the campaigns themselves have offered to make their information available in response to these claims saying the allegations are unfounded.
During the most recent Council meeting, held on December 8, Councilman Kirk Lepine, District 3, stated that several constituents from his district had been contacted by a political campaign during the recent runoff races for the November election. After speaking with a number of those constituents, Lepine said that those who contacted him had never given out their information to anyone other than the Parish Government, and called into question how constituent information had been procured by campaigns.
“My office received a good bit of complaints during election time, of people who gave their e-mail or their cell phone, probably to EOC emergency preparedness, and then received election or candidate e-mail or calls on their cell phone,” Lepine said.
Lepine asked the administration if it was possible that the Emergency Contact List, a reverse 911 system for contacting Parish residents, was possibly used to this end.
“The question arose because some of the constituents said, ‘No one else has my information. I gave it to the EOC in case of a Hurricane, I gave my cell phone so I could have the updates.’”
“So some of the complaints that came through my office were, ‘Where did they get this information? I know I only gave it to [the Parish],’” Lepine said.
“Could [someone] have given these out, or when someone [in the parish] gives their information out, is it for public use?”
The lists Lepine refers to are the two residential news and emergency systems in the Parish, with stored mass contact lists. One is the general information and news release service, which goes to the office of the Parish President, and the other, the reverse 911 system, which is operated by Homeland Security. That office is currently managed by interim-Director Benny Puckett.
Byron Williams, Director of Public Service, who was present at the December 8 meeting, responded for the administration.
“Information that is obtained by the parish is private information,” Williams said. “We do not give it out to any private companies or political subdivisions. I’m not sure how they got these individuals or constituents information.”
“It was not given, it was not leaked by the EOC?” Lepine further pressed Williams. “You can go on record saying that?”
“The EOC does not report to me,” Williams said. “But, as an administrator, I know that we hold this information as confidential, so I will go on record saying the EOC did not give this information out.”
Interim-Director Puckett later responded to Councilman Lepine’s questions with this statement:
“Due to the seriousness of the allegations raised by Councilman Lepine, a thorough investigation is needed to determine if either system has been compromised and if so by whom,” Puckett said. “To my knowledge, the systems mentioned are not maintained within the parish government. It is also my understanding that safeguards are in place to guard against improper or unauthorized use. We do appreciate these concerns being brought to our attention and will investigate them immediately.”
Those local campaigns cited by residents said that their process for generating calls and other practices are verified and heavily regulated by the Secretary of State’s office, as required by law. The campaigns have also supplied documentation regarding e-mail list aggregation, which the campaigns say were generated without the use of Parish Government resources.
Some of these e-mails and calls which Lepine mentioned in an interview following the December 8 meeting were identified as being generated by Print All Inc., located in Belle Chasse—which is a printing company that also performs marketing and other services for numerous clients, including political candidates. (Note: Print All Inc. shares the same ownership as The Plaquemines Gazette.)
Dale Benoit, who is an owner of the company which provides services such as web hosting and e-mail generation, said any claim that e-mails used by Print All for clients being obtained from the Parish are erroneous.
“We purchase the lists from vendors who specialize in compiling voter data, with e-mails included,” Benoit said. “Just as voter lists for mail addresses have been available for purchase for many years, e-mails are becoming more obtainable in the public domain.”
“All e-mails generated clearly identified who the author was, and there is always an opt-out feature to prevent future e-mails if the recipient chooses to click on that feature,” Benoit continued.