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Charlotte Area

New Law Puts Citizen Email Addresses Off-Limits

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Gov. Beverly Perdue has signed into law a bill that puts local government email address lists off-limits to businesses and the public. The new law could alleviate concerns prompted in January when The Charlotte Observer filed public-records requests with Cornelius, Davidson, Mecklenburg County and other local governments for the email addresses of citizens who subscribe to government email lists. Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said Thursday, "An appropriate bill has been passed. It's just not appropriate to be sharing private identification information." On Thursday, the town of Davidson sent an alert to its email subscribers saying their email addresses "are now protected by law." The message continued: "We want to assure you that we will not release your personal information to any person, organization, business or entity that requests it and that state legislation backs up our promise." Senate Bill 182, "Statewide Email Subscription Lists," was filed in February. That wasn't long after Davidson, Cornelius and other local governments around the region received requests from the newspaper under the state Freedom of Information laws. Some citizens became alarmed when local governments warned them about the Observer's requests and the possibility that the newspaper might get access to their information. Some were concerned the paper might use the lists to send unsolicited emails or marketing pitches. Davidson spokeswoman Megan Davis said the town is still not sure if The Observer request, made before the new law passed, remains valid. But it's also possible the newspaper has dropped its request. "We have not heard from them since their initial request," Ms. Davis said. Cornelius Mayor Tarte also said he hasn't heard from The Observer since the bill passed, and can't speak to whether it's retroactive or not. But he said he's not worried about it. At the time it filed the information requests, the paper didn't say what it planned to use the email lists for. But since the requests came from an executive outside the newsroom some local residents and officials feared the paper might use them to send spam, or unsolicited emails. The paper later pledged not to send emails to citizens using the lists, and apologized. As of March, the paper said the request still stands, and the newspaper says it wants to examine the lists for "journalistic reasons." But asked if the paper might press the towns that have not complied, Observer Editor Rick Thames said at the time, "We're not in the habit of asking for a public record and being turned down." Nonetheless, he added, "I'm not terribly concerned about that. " Advocates for open records have expressed concern about the bill, and any efforts to restrict access to public records.