White House Must Come Clean On Cancelled Fishy Data Collection Program
by John Cornyn on August 25, 2009 at 1:46 PM
Quietly killing the program in the dark of night with no explanation only raises more questions:
I was pleased to learn yesterday that the White House has taken down the firstname.lastname@example.org email address. As I explained in my August 5 letter to you, encouraging citizens to report so-called “fishy” emails and casual conversations to the White House raises grave concerns. This White House program could chill free speech and raise the specter of a data collection program.
While I am pleased that the program has apparently been dismantled, I remain concerned about the information that was collected during the 13 days that this program was in effect. Unless actions have been taken to purge the data, the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens who had their speech reported are still accessible from one or more White House computers. No American knows for certain whether his or her personally identifiable information or speech are included in this data, nor how the data sent to the email@example.com account will be used. I therefore renew the questions from my earlier letter: What protocols is the White House following to purge the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and identities of citizens who have been reported to have engaged in “fishy” speech?; and How do you intend to use the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and identities of citizens who have been reported to have engaged in “fishy” speech?
Based on new reports, I have an additional question. There have been allegations that emails sent to the firstname.lastname@example.org email address have been shared with the Democratic National Committee and other third-party groups outside of the administration. Have any of the contents or the information from email received at email@example.com been shared with the DNC or any other outside group?
I am also concerned that, even after the decision to dismantle it, various White House spokesmen continue to defend the firstname.lastname@example.org program. When asked yesterday whether the program was a good idea, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded “Yes, still is.” On Monday, August 17, White House Director of New Media Macon Phillips belittled criticism of the program as an “ironic development,” “fear-mongering,” and “online rumors that are the tactics of choice for the defenders of the status quo.”
I am not alone in having concerns about this program. The American Civil Liberties Union, hardly a right-wing “defender of the status quo,” called the program “a bad idea that could send a troublesome message.” The ACLU added: “critics of the administration’s health care proposal should not have to fear that their names will end up in some government database that could be used to chill their right to free speech.” I agree. This unprecedented program to monitor private emails and casual conversations is inconsistent with America’s tradition of free speech and public discourse. The program should not be defended by your White House, and I would appreciate your commitment that your administration will not engage in any similar program in the future.
I look forward to your prompt response.
United States Senator