Over at Watchdog today I write about something a reader tipped me off to. He noticed that his North Dakota bow hunting license was addressed to him with the same typo in his name as a Pheasants Forever mailing.
It turns out, when you purchase a hunting or fishing license in the state, your personal information up to and including your mailing address becomes a public record. A public record anyone who requests it can access, and lots of people do. Since 2012 some 30 organizations ranging from retailers to nonprofits to a political party (more on that in a moment) have filed 47 requests for the information.
The political party which has requested the data is the North Dakota Democratic party which filed a request in 2014. That’s kind of ironic, because something else the Democrats did in 2014 was file a criminal complaint over a Republican-aligned marketing firm requesting public data from the North Dakota University System.
From my Watchdog article:
According to Game & Fish records, the North Dakota Democratic Party accessed the list in 2014, the same year the party filed a criminal complaint against a Republican-aligned marketing firm alleging a violation of state “corrupt practices” law by requesting student directory information from the North Dakota University System.
“We believe that it is wrong for the private information of college students to be shared for any political or commercial purpose,” Rep. Kylie Oversen of Grand Forks, now the party’s chairwoman, and Rep. Josh Boschee of Fargo, say in a news release from the party in September 2014. “In order to comply with Odney Advertising’s request, state employees at each of our colleges and universities are pulling lists for Odney Advertising. This essentially means state employees are doing political work on behalf of Odney Advertising and their political clients, which includes the North Dakota Republican Party and other interest groups. This raises the likelihood that the Corrupt Practices Act could be violated.”
We got no response to an email sent to executive director Robert Haider requesting comment on why his party requested this data and why they used it.
I wish Haider had responded to me. I would have liked to hear him explain why Democrats feel it’s criminal for a Republican marketing firm to request public data from the university system for political purposes, but not criminal when they request hunting/fishing license data for similar purposes.
Anyway, you do have to wonder if this information should even be available. Or, at the very least, if citizens should be warned that their names and addresses are public when they purchase a hunting or fishing license. I asked the Game & Fish Department if they warn or notify people about their data being made public. “The Department does not inform a ND G&F licensee that the licensee’s name and address are releasable under North Dakota law in response to an open records request,” Kim Kary, head of the department’s Administrative Services Division, said in an email. “Such notification is not required under law. It is not feasible, especially in open records requests of this magnitude, to individually contact individuals when such a request is made for all the names and addresses of licensees.”
I’m a big, big advocate of government transparency, but for the purposes of keeping the public informed about what the government is doing. Not for the purpose of letting marketers and political operatives build databases of information about the public.
I feel like the public should be opted out of this sort of data sharing by default, and only given the choice to opt-in if that’s appropriate.
Here’s the full list of the organizations which have requested the information since 2012, along with which years they requested it.
- Info-Link Technologies (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
- William-Neil Associates (Cabella’s) (2012, 2014, 2015)
- Lisa Wigger (2012)
- Rock Communications (2013, 2014)
- boathistoryreport.com (2013, 2014, 2015)
- Statistical Surveys, Inc. (2013, 2014, 2015)
- C.B. Pearson (2013)
- Dakota Country Magazine (2013)
- Fur-Fish-Game Magazine (2013)
- US Army (2013)
- Infocision.com (2013, 2014)
- eMerges.com (2013, 2015)
- Prestige Imports, LLC (2013)
- Infogroup.com (2013, 2014, 2015)
- ND Democratic NPL (2014)
- ND Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks (2014)
- Target (2014, 2015)
- Donorfinders.com (2014, 2015)
- William Bilsing (2014, 2015)
- Pheasants Forever (2014)
- Peoplefinders.com (2014)
- Foremost.com (2014)
- Bowhuntingroad.com (2014)
- Bismarck prop works (2015)
- Battery Doctors (2015)
- Vallely sport and marine (2015)
- Mills Fleet Farm (2015)
- New Mexico Outdoor Properties (2015)
- Portland Outdoors, LLC (2015)
- Integrated DM (2015)