CCFOI testimony: HB 5447 and 5448

CCFOI opposes home address exemption proposals because they erode the state’s FOI law, create a false sense of security and limit the ability to hold public officials accountable.

See Michel Jacklin’s full testimony here and below.

HB 5447, AN ACT EXEMPTING THE RESIDENTIAL ADDRESSES OF CERTAIN EMPLOYEES FROM DISCLOSURE UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT;

AND HB 5448, AN ACT CONCERNING SECURITY OF CERTAIN ELECTION WORKERS AND ELECTIONS- RELATED LOCATIONS

Government Administration and Elections

March 13, 2024

Good afternoon Sen. Flexer, Rep. Blumenthal, Ranking Members Sampson and Mastrofrancesco and Honorable Members of the GAE Committee:

My name is Michele Jacklin, and I am legislative co-chair of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information (CCFOI). We are a 69-year-old organization comprised of CT news media outlets and First Amendment supporters. Our mission is to advocate and promote government transparency, public access, strong Freedom of Information laws and other measures that guarantee the rights of individuals and journalists under the First Amendment to the United State Constitution and the state Constitution.

CCFOI opposes both HB 5447 and Section 1 of HB 5448 because they continue the drip-drip-drip erosion of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and create a false sense of security. As CCFOI has testified in recent years, the addresses of virtually all state residents are readily available on the Internet and from a variety of sources. These two bills are window dressing. They do nothing to afford local, state or federal employees privacy or protect them from identity theft.

Cyberattacks have become routine. I have been a victim of data breaches three times in the past year, two of them involving major health care systems. Not only has my address been stolen, but other personally identifiable information and medical diagnoses have been revealed as well.

We also know that data is shared by online companies. A recent story co-published by Consumer Reports said, “By now, most internet users know their online activity is constantly tracked. No one should be shocked to see ads for items they previously searched for, or to be asked if their data can be shared with an unknown number of partners….But what is the scale of this surveillance? Judging from data collected by Facebook and newly described in a unique study by non-profit consumer watchdog Consumer Reports, it’s
massive.”

With regard to the residential addresses of public employees, the FOIA ensures accountability because an address is an important piece of information in accomplishing that goal.

Take the example of Melissa McCaw, the former secretary of the Office of Police and Management. After East Hartford hired McCaw as its finance director, The Journal-Inquirer of Manchester disclosed that she owed property taxes in Middletown. When that information was reported, East Hartford required her to rectify the situation and pay the delinquent taxes before she could assume her new role. The ability to access McCaw’s address made accountability possible.

But McCaw is not an isolated example. There have been many other instances where a public employee’s address has led to unflattering revelations about that individual, including arrest and irregular voting records. Also, a residential address is a key piece of information that helps the public know if the arrested party is, in fact, the employee in question or someone else with the same name.

CCFOI understands that the legislature enacted Section 1-217 of the general statutes out of security concerns for certain select groups of state employees directly involved in the criminal justice system. Since that time, other groups of public employees have sought to expand the exemption. But much has changed over the past 25 years and the exemption doesn’t provide the protection that employees believe they will be granted.

CCFOI urges you to reject HB 5447 and Section 1 of HB 5448.

Thank you.
Michele Jacklin
CCFOI Legislative Co-Chair