PROVIDENCE — A lawyer representing The Providence Journal lodged a complaint with the Rhode Island attorney general on Monday in an effort to help the newspaper acquire a digital copy of the state’s voter database, with full names and birth dates.
In November, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea declined to provide the database, saying that the public release of an electronically searchable database with birth dates would make it too easy for thieves to steal the identities of voters.
The Journal’s lawyer, Michael J. Grygiel, filed a complaint with the attorney general focusing on the issue of identity theft.
“The newspaper appreciates Secretary Gorbea’s focus on identity theft issues, but submits that her concern is both speculative and overstated with respect to dates of birth,” Grygiel said.
Grygiel’s letter points out that the Rhode Island Identity Theft Protection Act does not include dates of birth, either alone or together with other identifying information, as “‘personal information’ in need of protection.”
The letter, addressed to Special Assistant Attorney General Lisa Pinsonneault, argues that the public release of full dates of birth cannot be withheld under any exemption to Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act.
Gorbea had also made that argument in her denial letter to The Journal reporter who requested the information, Paul Edward Parker. She said that even if all of the voter information collected by local canvassers boards is a public record by statute, the same records are subject to “exceptions” in the public records law, including an exemption for certain “personal individually identifiable records.”
Gorbea has already called for voter information files, including dates of birth, to be available to the public at terminals in the elections division of her office, says Grygiel’s letter.
“It is long established as a canon of public access that when information is already public,” says the letter, “the proverbial cat has been let out of the bag and a claim for invasion of privacy cannot be maintained.”