When you do business with a government agency, at just about any level, you surrender a certain amount of privacy. Whatever you give to the agency is likely going to be subject to so-called “sunshine” laws that go by names like “Freedom of Information” or “Freedom of Access.” Recently, some sportsmen have discovered this the hard way since the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine went to the Maine Attorney General and managed to force the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to sell its list of licensees (Mike Bloxham, 2010).
The outcry has been small, but seems to be building. Notably, Spamhaus has weighed in on the topic (Chris Thompson, 2010). Why? Because the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is acting like a spammer and violating what I sometimes refer to as “the Eleventh Commandment.”
What is the Eleventh Commandment, you ask? Here it is, in full King James Version English form:
Thou shalt not populate thine marketing or outreach lists with information gathered from the Freedom of Information Act nor any other Act like unto it. From thine customers who giveist thee permission thou mayst populate thine lists, and from thine business associates who giveist thee permission thou mayst, and from the stranger in thy gates who giveist thee permission thou mayst, but from the poor and the person who must transact business with thine government thou shalt not for they didst not give thee permission. It is an abomination unto thee and an unclean thing.
There are a variety of reasons for this. First, consider that sending to non-permission based lists most likely violates the terms of service of any email service provider (at least of any positive reputation) as well as any internet service provider (again, at least those with any positive reputation). You could find yourself on the shoulder of the (and I hate to use this term) Information Superhighway watching everyone else speed by.
Second, you get labeled a spammer and get your mail blocked. If you weren’t violating the terms of service of your ESP or your ISP, then you can still look forward to watching life pass by because they usually take a pretty dim view of having their resources blocked by Spamhaus and AOL and Yahoo and RoadRunner/Time Warner and…..
Third, consider the PR angle. This story came to my attention because of a reporter (whose employer’s publication I read on occasion) who had his email address sold to someone who wants to start sending him email. That reporter does not even live in Maine. And he’s now writing articles about what has been happening to his email address. That’s not a good thing, PR wise.
Finally, and flowing from the PR angle, it gives you one fewer opportunity to stick your foot in your mouth or…some other unpleasant place that I’ll leave to your imagination. That’s exactly what the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has done here. I couldn’t find a link to a “clean” version their response, so you’ll have to settle for this one, which features a blogger’s comments (which are pretty intelligent and well thought out) following the response. Don’t worry, I’ll wait while you go read it. Really, you should read that response if you want the rest of this to make any sense.
Now, consider this response. It seems to fall along three lines:
As Laura Atkins points out, they’re doing the things that spammers do. They’re just a little less sophisticated about it in that they aren’t hiding anything.
What may not jump out at you is that they tried to do this on the sly at first. They say:
A private company, InforMe, is the state’s database vendor. DIF&W’s email list is managed by InforMe and the department’s emailed messages are sent by another private company, Constant Contact. So I asked InforMe to sell DIF&W’s list of email addresses to SAM. My first request was sent in March of 2009.
That’s right, my friends! They tried to buy the list from someone they thought might broker the list, and when they refused, they went the FOIA route. Do you know what spammers do? They get addresses any way they can, whether it’s by bribing someone on the inside into giving it to them, scraping them off of websites, or …. trying to pay off the database management company and launching a FOIA request when that fails.
They do spend a lot of time on point one, but their point is mainly tangential to what they discuss. They tell us that they did everything legally using laws that have used to find out about nefarious laws and stop them before they could do damage. That’s great. That’s what those laws were intended to do. I’m pretty sure that when those laws were passed, hawking memberships to organizations wasn’t a great topic of discussion in the statehouse, so how about making points that are related. Granted, the Alliance did manage to do that once by talking about postal mailings sent by politicians. That, of course, leads to a question: do you really want people equating you with that class of people? But, that’s a lesson for another day.
Second, they fault the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife for disclosing what had happened. This, to me, just reeks of hypocrisy. They have spent (lots of) words, sentences, and paragraphs talking up what a wonderful thing letting people know things is. Now, they’re complaining that the Department had the unmitigated gall to actually tell the very people whose information was disclosed that their information had been disclosed. I don’t know how they could be more hypocritical on this point if they tried.
Finally, they tell us that they fully intend on mailing this list. And if you’re on it, well then that’s just too bad, you’re going to get mailed to. “We hope you find our action understandable, and if you happen to receive emailed information from SAM, you will find it useful and important.”
I wonder what happens when someone doesn’t find it useful and important? Think they’ll let you off of the list? Given the level of insight that their statement shows, I doubt they think they need to, despite the dictates of CAN-SPAM. Of course, that’s just my impression of things given what they had to say.
This is why the Eleventh Commandment is so important. It keeps you on the right side of your service providers, it keeps you from getting blocked, it doesn’t put you in a public bad light, and you get to avoid an opportunity to make yourself look even worse by getting defensive about it.