Concerns with Wisconsin’s Planned Database of Recall Petition Signers

(Update at end of post)

I’m troubled by Wisconsin’s plan to create a database of all signers of the recall petitions. I know the political parties have access to the petitions in order to challenge signatures, but I’m unsure (and I’ll need to find out) if all signatures are generally a part of the public record.

Did you sign? Did you think that fact might be publicly discoverable?

You might or might not be concerned with that disclosure, but placing these names into a database changes things. A database makes it much easier to search for particular names and addresses, easier to identify and harass, easier to discriminate, etc. It also makes systemic error or bias much more possible, and potentially more harmful.

So, to start the process of addressing these concerns, I’ve submitted an open records request to the state Government Accountability Board. Here’s the meat of the request:

Specifically, I am interesting in obtaining answers and related information to the following questions:

1) What software platform will be used for creation and maintenance of this database.

2) What software platform will be purchased (as reported in the media) to aid with character recognition of the handwriting on the petitions.

3) Exactly which information fields from the petitions will be included in the database?

4) Who has access to this database, and what security/authentication measures will be used to ensure only authorized access?

5) How long will this database remain? Is there a planned destruction date? Conversely, are there plans to archive it?

6) Will the database itself be subject to open records requests?

I’ll provide updates if I receive any response or answers.

:: UPDATE (1/23/2012) -  While I haven’t received any response to my inquiry to the GAB, this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article notes that the handwriting recognition software being used is docAlpha from Artsyl Technologies. The story notes how error-prone these technologies can be (5-10% error rate per character!), and confirms that the state database of petition signers will indeed be publicly accessible.

Author: Michael Zimmer

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