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.