Minnesota cities and municipalities that receive requests for citizen email addresses say they are legally required to release them, a potentially unwelcome surprise for people who may have expected privacy when they signed up for email alerts on city news.
Cities in Ramsey and Washington counties recently were asked for all the email addresses they have collected. The state's Data Practices Act makes the addresses public information.
"It's unfortunate and really nothing you can do about it," Brent Engebretson, a Roseville resident who recently learned his email address had been disclosed, told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/OWsm7j ).
Roseville released 4,000 email addresses in response to a data request in July. The addresses came from people who signed up for alerts on city council meetings, street maintenance and more than a dozen other topics.
"If I had my choice, I would not make this information available," city spokeswoman Carolyn Curti said.
But Roseville was legally required to hand over the information.
"Generally speaking, if someone were to make a request for email addresses at a government entity — local or state government entity — there's nothing that classifies your email address as anything other than public," said Stacie Christensen, an attorney with the state's Information Policy Analysis Division, or IPAD.
Roseville wasn't the only city to be asked for its email lists. Minnesota Public Radio contacted more than half a dozen cities that received identical inquiries. Each request came from a man named Kevin Berglund, who did not respond to the news organization's phone calls or emails seeking comment.
Although it's not clear what Berglund wants with the addresses, they target cities in Minnesota's 4th District — where his wife, former Maplewood Mayor Diana Longrie, is running for the U.S. House in Tuesday's Democratic primary against Rep. Betty McCollum. Longrie declined to tell MPR whether the requests were connected to her campaign.
No one picked up Thursday at a home phone listing for Longrie and Berglund, and the voice mailbox was full.
MPR reported several cities haven't responded yet, with some — including Woodbury, Stillwater and Falcon Heights — telling Berglund his request would be time-consuming. Some demanded Berglund pay thousands of dollars to cover staff time. They said they haven't yet heard back from him.
But the policy is probably little protection. Don Gemberling, secretary of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and a former head of IPAD, said such a policy violates the statute.
Legislators have amended the Data Practices Act several times in the past 30 years, usually to make more government data private.