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NC Cities Aim to Curb Public Access To Government Email Lists

As the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and several other cities in the region prepare to hand over tens of thousands of private citizen email addresses to the Charlotte Observer, the state's League of Municipalities is gearing up to prevent such disclosure in the future. Last week the group made it a top legislative priority to limit access to government e-mail lists. The Observer is using public records law to obtain email addresses of people who have signed up to receive email notification from local governments. But League Executive Director Ellis Haskins says there should be a limit where private email addresses are concerned. "It's good that the statute is broad and that most information in the hands of government is public, but there need to be some reasonable exceptions," says Hasking. "I think most people would be surprised to hear that information they give the city for purposes of receiving information then becomes available to commercial firms." Last year, Wake and Yadkin Counties received special permission from the state legislature to limit access to government email lists. People can view the lists in person, but are not given the addresses in electronic format, which could easily be used for marketing or advertising. The League of Municipalities wants that to be an option statewide. Charlotte Observer editor Rick Thames says the newspaper has requested the email addresses for journalistic purposes only - such as finding sources for stories. But state law doesn't limit how the list can be used once it's obtained through a public records request.