Hill Staffers pretty upset over this LegiStorm thing

posted at 4:01 pm on April 6, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

For a bit of disclosure right up front, I’d never heard of LegiStorm until this week. (But then, I’m never out in front on what all the cool kids are doing, so that’s not a shocker.) But the government transparency site has been around for a while, providing information such as the salaries of congressional staffers. They now offer a premium service as part of their LegiStorm Pro offering called Stormfeed, however, and that’s got a lot of the aforementioned staffers up in arms.

The Congress-focused research organization LegiStorm set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill this week as some staffers learned that their personal Twitter accounts would appear on the site.

LegiStorm on Wednesday publicized the tool StormFeed, a “real-time, full-text searchable access to every official press release and official tweet from Capitol Hill plus the tweets of thousands of congressional staffers,” according to a release. It’s a page available for members of the subscription service LegiStorm Pro.

It seems that they are streaming the “private Twitter feeds” of staffers, as well as publishing profiles with lots of other information. (Is there any such thing s a “private” Twitter feed if you don’t protect your tweets?) These include links to Facebook pages and personal bio data. Apparently the latter includes items which have the subjects upset over the level of intrusion.

… one House Republican staffer told POLITICO in an email on Friday. “I was pretty surprised to show that they even listed who I married, when I married him and where. Why in the world does that need to be in there?”

“I was also surprised to see that my personal Twitter account and avatar is what’s being used at the top of their screen captured image of what [LegiStorm] looks like,” [a different staffer] continued. “Seems pretty invasive to me. I understand why our salaries are public. They should be. But I don’t understand why the rest of this info needs to be displayed like this. Where I got married isn’t just anyone’s business.”

One Republican Senate aide challenged the overall level of data LegiStorm provides about staffers, saying including religion on some profiles is too much.

“Transparency is one thing; listing sensitive and private information is entirely different,” the staffer told POLITICO. “Our salaries are a matter of public record — but why should anyone need to know our religion? That’s over the line.”

At least they all seem to agree that their salary information is public. (They’re getting paid with tax dollars, after all.) But how about the rest of this material? If you sign on for a job working for an elected representative, how much of your personal life is fair game? As far as the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, I fail to see where there’s a dispute. If your feed is locked and private, it’s not going to show up. If it’s public, anybody can see it anyway. This is just collecting all the streams in one site.

The bio information may get a bit more murky, but most of it still looks as if it’s in bounds should anyone be interested. Marriage licenses are public information, aren’t they? (Opening up a whole different kettle of fish.) I’m pretty sure real estate transactions and similar public records would fall in the same classification if they chose to include them. The religion one is a bit trickier, since you generally don’t have to “register” to go to a specific church. Unless you publish something proclaiming the specifics of your faith, it would be pretty hard to pin that down and publish it. But if you did – again – it’s information you put out in the public sphere, so it seems a bit late to complain about it now.

Does the public have the right to know all of this? Well, who a representative hires and has doing their research and legwork on public business certainly seems to be a valid aspect of the official’s performance for voters to consider. And if you’re doing anything that embarrassing or illegal, your boss would probably like to know anyway so they can fire you. All in all, I’m not sure I see where staffers have any grounds to complain about LegiStorm at this point.


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They should link to the Fast & Furious documents. I would find that much more interesting than someone’s bio.

ButterflyDragon on April 6, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Tell you what, upset staffers. You work very hard to protect my freedom and privacy, and I’ll do the same.

But you first.

beatcanvas on April 6, 2013 at 4:05 PM

Bullcrap. 99% of the time it is the staffers writing the dam laws. Not the represenatives. They should not only be an open book they should be in the limelight. It is these laws the staffers write and tell the congress people to vote on that WE all have to live under. they deserve nothing but spotlights on everything they write, do and say.

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM

Good point.

But can I add: Can they now link Obama’s transcripts? We can then confirm how all his GLBT studies, African studies, and socialist studies coursework is informing his views on economic and tax policy.

BuckeyeSam on April 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

Question, the only staffers listed here are a House Republican staffer and a Republican Senate aide…..are these the only ones being targeted with this or does it apply to all staffers/aides?
Curious minds and all that dontcha know….

sicoit on April 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

If you sign on for a job working for an elected representative, how much of your personal life is fair game?

All of it…that can be legally accessed!

If you seek privacy, you are living on the wrong planet in the wrong millennium.

1. If you truly support capitalism and free markets, then data mining of all aspects of your life is an inevitability. There is a market for everything including every molecule of your publicly accessible data or any data you have allowed 3d parties to collect and re-sell.

2. From a public policy standpoint it certainly makes sense to shine a bright light on those who make our laws and regulations including the identities of all known friends, family and associates. Not that this has done us any good but who knows, maybe someday Dick Blum or Paul Pelosi will get the same rectal exam as Ted Stevens, Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff & Tom DeLay.

Afterseven on April 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

I have just the solution: Close your private Twitter feeds. It’s a simple as that. Or, better yet, don’t start one.

totherightofthem on April 6, 2013 at 4:22 PM

These people look up that info all the time in efforts to punish normal citizens.

pat on April 6, 2013 at 4:24 PM

“I am the state” – King Louis XIV

“This nation, me” – Obama (during one of his debates with Romney)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VnXmPppIMmk

VorDaj on April 6, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Bullcrap. 99% of the time it is the staffers writing the dam laws. Not the represenatives. They should not only be an open book they should be in the limelight. It is these laws the staffers write and tell the congress people to vote on that WE all have to live under. they deserve nothing but spotlights on everything they write, do and say.

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM

…here here!

KOOLAID2 on April 6, 2013 at 4:28 PM

So – Republican staffers were exposed and quoted above…..

How many DEMOCRAT staffers were Exposed and Interviewed?

I hope they have private home VIDEOs of Democrats – we can’t HAVE “too much” informattion on them in the public eye!

williamg on April 6, 2013 at 4:30 PM

…wonder if they got all upset when the newspapers publish all the gun owners addresses from ‘public information’?

KOOLAID2 on April 6, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Bullcrap. 99% of the time it is the staffers writing the dam laws. Not the represenatives. They should not only be an open book they should be in the limelight. It is these laws the staffers write and tell the congress people to vote on that WE all have to live under. they deserve nothing but spotlights on everything they write, do and say.

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM

This. As long as they are doing this to dems as well.

AZfederalist on April 6, 2013 at 4:35 PM

But can I add: Can they now link Obama’s transcripts? We can then confirm how all his GLBT studies, African studies, and socialist studies coursework is informing his views on economic and tax policy.

BuckeyeSam on April 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

that would be nice.

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:47 PM

I hear Ty Woods saved over 20 “staffers” from Benghazi before he was left to die by Obowma and the Pant Suit…

… I would really like to know what they have to say.

Seven Percent Solution on April 6, 2013 at 4:48 PM

As long as they are doing this to dems as well.

AZfederalist on April 6, 2013 at 4:35 PM

at this point I don’t even care. If one of these people know they can be outed and their communications can be seen then maybe our laws making process can see the light of day and be taken out of the backroom non smoke filled rooms.

unseen on April 6, 2013 at 4:48 PM

You seriously don’t find this intrusive or offensive? Publishing in a database format religion, marriage places and dates, multiple things that expose people to increased risk of identity theft.

Why isn’t this as offensive as listing gun owner addresses? That’s public information, too.

Isn’t this as creepy as people going through Sarah Palin’s email? She was an elected official-these people are not.

Does every government employee relinquish all privacy rights?

What about the Capitol custodial staff? They work for elected representatives. They have access to sensitive information. Should there be a public release of their personal information?

talkingpoints on April 6, 2013 at 4:52 PM

Yesterday the Middle East changed forever, and you didn’t know it.

Israel now is pumping natural gas from one of the enormous offshore fields which will transform Israel into an energy-independent nation and a global energy powerhouse:

Natural gas from the offshore Tamar field was pumped to Israeli shores for the first time Saturday, four years after its discovery, in preparation for its first use in the Israeli energy market — a move that could transform the Israeli economy.

The Tamar deposit, discovered in 2009 some 90 kilometers west of Haifa, holds an estimated 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

On Saturday, hailed an “important day for the Israeli economy” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, natural gas from the field was being pumped to a newly erected facility on the coast of Ashdod, connected to the gas field via pipelines laid out on the ocean floor, 150 kilometers long and 16 inches wide.

Commenting on the historic development, Netanyahu drew a link between the event and the holiday of Passover.

“On the festival of freedom, we are taking an important step toward energy independence. We have advanced the natural gas sector in Israel over the last decade, which will be good for the Israeli economy and for all Israelis,” Netanyahu said.

VorDaj on April 6, 2013 at 5:06 PM

“Exposing is for thee, not for me” –sozi-commies

Schadenfreude on April 6, 2013 at 5:12 PM

This is the same argument used by those whose naked photos get onto the internet.

And the response is also the same: Don’t want naked pictures of you circulating around the world? Don’t take a picture of yourself without any clothes on.

Conversely, if you don’t want your twitter of facebook info buzzing around, don’t put it on twitter or facebook.

It is that simple.

BobMbx on April 6, 2013 at 5:28 PM

One of the biggest unkept secrets of the internet is there are no secrets on the internet. If you want to keep your life private, then don’t have a twitter account. Lock your facebook down on the privacy settings. But you don’t get to have a twitter account and wonder why people are paying attention to it. It’s like having a private conversation in a restaurant and getting mad when people listen in from the next booth.

Snaqwels on April 6, 2013 at 6:00 PM

I dissent from Jazz and most commenters. I get the point about twitter, but just because information is available doesn’t make it right to publish it. You know, like who has gun permits, where people live, their marital status, and so on.

Buy Danish on April 6, 2013 at 6:02 PM

I suppose I would want to know what these staffers are saying wrt the political. If they are out there using Twitter and Facebook to push their bosses’ agenda, I’d be inclined to want to know that.

Other than that, though, I think they ought to be left alone without LegiStorm perpetually shining a limelight on their life and activities. This is because, like all else, there will be a certain portion of the public who will make their personal mission to harass those people interminably and on everything, and doing so in the belief that these staff are public persons, like their bosses and they aren’t.

Dusty on April 6, 2013 at 6:27 PM

I must address the staffer’s question.

“Why does it matter who I’m married to?”

Because that is the person who will most likely get the cush job as some type of payoff or undocumented reward for some act… That’s why we want to know. Perhaps they work for some lobby firm or a company that has a special interest… Was that so hard to deduce? If so you might be in the wrong line of work.

Kaptain Amerika on April 6, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Individually, it makes sense to say that the public has a right to know if a Congressional staffer is married or not, or other details.

But there’s a big difference between being able to look up a couple details, and collecting all publicly available information on a person and putting it into a single database.

Compare this to military operations security. There are lots of little unclassified details that can be gathered about this or that military unit or base. But if you gather all those little tidbits of information together, you can get a pretty good idea about what’s going on in that unit. The military is always being reminded that, just because it’s not actually classified, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be discreet.

This kind of thing is just identity theft waiting to happen. How many web sites offer a password recovery program that will reset your password if you can answer basic questions about yourself? And how many of those questions are very basic? With an extensive public profile like this, you might well be able to answer the classic password recovery questions like, “What is your mother’s maiden name?” and “What was your first car?”

Transparency is one thing, but there really does need to be some limits. Even Congressional staffers are human.

tom on April 6, 2013 at 6:36 PM

But there’s a big difference between being able to look up a couple details, and collecting all publicly available information on a person and putting it into a single database.

This is how Facebook gets paid. When the info is “voluntary” and couched as a ‘social network’, its ok for people to peer into your life.

But attach the involuntary/government tag to the same info, all of a sudden its a horrible thing.

The staffers can just bite me.

And here’s something else that needs to be considered: These staffers are the ones who have daily access and provide advice to the representatives you and I vote for. I think it prudent that we know who they are.

BobMbx on April 6, 2013 at 7:04 PM

VorDaj on April 6, 2013 at 5:06 PM

+1

I must address the staffer’s question.
“Why does it matter who I’m married to?”

Because that is the person who will most likely get the cush job as some type of payoff or undocumented reward for some act… That’s why we want to know. Perhaps they work for some lobby firm or a company that has a special interest… Was that so hard to deduce? If so you might be in the wrong line of work.

Kaptain Amerika on April 6, 2013 at 6:27 PM

+1
Now that almost every aspect of our existence tends toward fighting for a piece of federal pie, it appears that all those at the top of the food chain (everyone in Washington) are fair game for us to talk about.

This kind of scrutiny begs the question of who is going to survive at the top. We know the Dems have political-bots recruited/groomed for this, and therefore they are at ease with whatever coverage Legistorm etal has on tap because they understand/control the media-life this story might produce – and whether it’ll have a damaging or a short political shelf-life.
The left cultivates vicious political operatives.
What do we have?

egmont on April 6, 2013 at 7:24 PM

Does the public have the right to know all of this? Well, who a representative hires and has doing their research and legwork on public business certainly seems to be a valid aspect of the official’s performance for voters to consider. And if you’re doing anything that embarrassing or illegal, your boss would probably like to know anyway so they can fire you. All in all, I’m not sure I see where staffers have any grounds to complain about LegiStorm at this point.

Sorry this debate was over when the left starting bussing in parasites to harrass public officials during the Bush administration. More times than not, they merely scared family members.

Staffers can be as private as they want in their own lives. That means not necessarily sending pictures on social media of the latte you just got in the House cafeteria. And the fact of the matter is that this isn’t invasion of privacy. It is doing detective work against known staff members.

Happy Nomad on April 6, 2013 at 8:33 PM

A lot of staffers run for office (Paul Ryan), so it’s a good way to have a heads up on people.

The other thing is that staffers control so much of how member’s act, I think it’s fair. Staffers act as filters in deciding what member’s support and who they meet with. I don’t see an issue with people collecting as much public information about these individuals as possible. Member’s don’t read bills, staffers do.

amazingmets on April 6, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Now maybe, just maybe, these high and mighty staffers might just get the point about how corporations put together consumer profiles of people and that private citizens really don’t like it nor the sleazy ‘give us permission to use your private data or you don’t get the goodies’ stuff that goes on to garner such data. How do you think the population feels knowing that they are being profiled by companies, save that they trade the data out of sight with each other? Now a company is just going to make some of it public.

Hey, staffers!

Got privacy concerns?

How about getting a law together to protect EVERYONE’S privacy, huh?

ajacksonian on April 6, 2013 at 8:51 PM

So, they are complaining that when they hang it all out there, someone is pointing to it?

Count to 10 on April 6, 2013 at 9:18 PM

A lot of these Congressional staffers go on to hold public office. They are just having opposition research done on them before they’ve thought to prep themselves.

Good. Good.

unclesmrgol on April 6, 2013 at 9:47 PM

As former Senate staff, I admit to being biased; but, I wonder how many people who applaud this “service” would like to have their private lives under similar scrutiny?

Yes, a lot of staffers go on to hold public office. And many of them go on to other jobs in DC where they can continue to apply the skills they learned working on the Hill. More importantly, however, most of them go back home as private citizens – get a job in their hometown – get married and have children. Yet this data will always be available to anyone looking for it? Sorry, I don’t think it’s appropriate.

I worked in the Senate for more than a decade. I am not ashamed or embarrassed about any action I took. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want Joe Schmoe from Oklahoma City (or anywhere else) knowing what I said in a tweet to my friends and/or followers or a Facebook posting about my children and where they go to school.

It’s one thing to use social media to make a case for a worthy legislative initiative – it is entirely another to “stream” everything said over social media or to invade what in normally a private matter to someone’s computer – simply because of who employs you…

MSPaladin on April 7, 2013 at 12:17 AM

It seems that they are streaming the “private Twitter feeds” of staffers, as well as publishing profiles with lots of other information.

Does this include, say, the legality of that staffer’s immigration status? It seems to me that this information would’ve been useful a time or two.

James on April 7, 2013 at 1:07 AM

Cry me a river, puppets of the super-rich.

S. D. on April 7, 2013 at 9:26 AM

I hope they have private home VIDEOs of Democrats – we can’t HAVE “too much” informattion on them in the public eye!

williamg on April 6, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Every bit of public information on all of them should be collected and aggregated.

That’s what they are doing to us.
http://cnsnews.com/blog/gregory-gwyn-williams-jr/atf-seeks-massive-database-personal-info-assets-relatives-associates

Obamacare gives them total access to our financial records too.

dogsoldier on April 7, 2013 at 10:06 AM

,,,why should anyone need to know our religion? That’s over the line.”

Sometimes the way I practice my faith, I’d be embarrassed, too. I suppose if I practiced my faith better, people would be able to guess my faith by my actions. I’m sorry to say that after all these years, I’m still a work in progress.

olesparkie on April 7, 2013 at 2:07 PM