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Attitudes toward Online Availability of US Public Records

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Many have enthusiastically greeted the ability to search and view public records online as a great advance for transparency and accountability. Such ability, however, also creates value tensions with …

Many have enthusiastically greeted the ability to search and view public records online as a great advance for transparency and accountability. Such ability, however, also creates value tensions with privacy and other important human values. In this paper, we report findings from a survey of 134 residents of the US Pacific Northwest on their awareness of and attitudes towards online access to political campaign records and real estate transaction histories, bringing to light some of the social implications of technological changes that increase ease of access to public records. We show that, while respondents often understood the reason behind making these records public, considerable concern about the current accessibility of these records exists, along with a precautionary indication that such open access may reduce public participation for some individuals.

Published in News & Politics , Business
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  • valuable tools to reduce corruption by communicating the interests to which a candidate is “most likely to be responsive,” by making large contributions and expenditures, public to “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption,” and by providing necessary data for the enforcement of campaign finance laws.
  • Balanced – some asked about real estate first, some asked about cc first
  • Balanced – some asked about real estate first, some asked about cc first
  • Different test than in paper.
  • Different test than in paper.
  • Different test than in paper.
  • Stronger feelings for political
  • Stronger feelings for political
  • Others wrote in that they were uncomfortable, but couldn’t figure out okay changes.
  • Reconsider: no fixed formula. Be aware of what we are building.

Transcript

  • 1. Sunlight or Sunburn:Attitudes toward Online Availability of US Public Records
    Sean A. MunsonDaniel Avrahami, Sunny ConsolvoJames Fogarty, Batya FriedmanIan Smith
    University of MichiganIntel Labs SeattleUniversity of WashingtonEverbread, Ltd.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.
  • 6.
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10. public records aren’t new
    Long history of real estate records being public
    In US, campaign contribution records date from 1910, upheld in 1976 (Buckley v Valeo).
    … but this level of accessibility is.
  • 11. The Good
    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman” - Justice Brandeis, 1914
  • 12. Cause for concern? (or at least questions)
    Are these uses consistent with campaign donors’ and real estate purchasers’ expectations?
    If not, people may feel that their privacy has been violated (Adams & Sasse).
    Nissenbaumon public records’ increased accessibility:
    “requires an examination of governing norms of appropriateness and flow to see whether and in what ways the proposed new practices measure up.”
  • 13. Risks of violations
    If there are violations:
    Risk of people suppressing activities in ways not intended?
    Damage to relationships?
    Culture of mutual surveillance? (1984; Palen & Dourish)
    Aggregation of public data sets toderive sensitive data. (Griffith &Jakobsson 2005)
  • 14. Survey design
    Four page survey, questions about:
    demographics
    history and intentions for campaign contributions and real estate purchases
    whether they had displayed political bumper stickers or signs
    comfort about what of this information was available online
    how its availability may affect future plans
    Screenshots of existing sites and tools
  • 15. Survey design
    Four page survey, questions about:
    demographics
    history and intentions for campaign contributions and real estate purchases
    whether they had displayed political bumper stickers or signs
    comfort about what of this information was available online
    how its availability may affect future plans
    Screenshots of existing sites and tools
    Respondents
    Survey sent to 1,000 households in PNW, November 2008.
    47 marked “return to sender”
    134 filled out and returned (14% response rate)
    Somewhat older and more liberal than general population
  • 16. Results
  • 17. Beliefs, understanding, and awareness
    Differing awareness of online availability
    73% for real estate records
    49% for campaign contributions
    Though most participants offered reasons for records being public, some could not think of a reason
    19% for real estate records
    11% for campaign contributions
  • 18. Beliefs, understanding, and awareness
    Real estate records: emphasis on practical concerns (e.g., information for potential buyers, sellers, and tax records; 60%)
    Campaign contributions: emphasis on transparency (49%)
  • 19. c
    Comfort with records being searchable
    Very comfortable
    Not at all comfortable
    Wilcoxon Signed-rank test, correction for multiple tests.
  • 20. c
    Comfort with records being searchable
    Very comfortable
    Not at all comfortable
  • 21. c
    Comfort with records being searchable
    Wilcoxon Signed-rank test, correction for multiple tests.
  • 22. Comfort with searcher
    Greater comfort with searcher from their area and a citizen than with a searcher from outside their area or who was a non-citizen.
  • 23. Change access?
  • 24. Change access?
  • 25. Access restrictions?
    Sense from some that searchers should have to “justify” access or pay a nominal charge to cut down on “frivolous” access and limit it to those who “need” to know.
    … or that it should just require more effort than visiting a website.
    “city/county Admin but not where it can be readily accessed online.”
  • 26. Change access?
  • 27. Eliminate?
    There should be right to privacy - like the secret ballot - political affiliations & contributions should remain private. I was major ticked off to find my contributions, candidates' affiliations, etc online - no one's business in the public arena.
    “there should be no access. One's political affiliations should only be made public voluntarily.”
  • 28. Eliminate?
    33% of those who wanted change said they would give less to political campaigns in the future, vs. only 3% for those who did not want access changed.
    “This issue has already made us unlikely to ever donate to a presidential campaign again.”
  • 29. Change access?
  • 30. A Dilemma
    “this is a dilemma: privacy vs. protection from influence by individuals or groups”
    “I prefer privacy & I'm not sure how to address the issue.”
  • 31. A Dilemma: What to do?
    Privacy violations are occurring, with unknown effects.
    Do we
    change policies?
    better educate donors and buyers?
    Why records are available
    What will be accessible (better labels?)
    reconsider what tools we build?
  • 32. Future work
    Update data (quite a bit has changed since 2008)
    Need to measure actual behavior and effects rather than just attitudes.
  • 33. Sunlight or Sunburn:Attitudes toward Online Availability of US Public Records
    Sean A. MunsonDaniel Avrahami, Sunny ConsolvoJames Fogarty, Batya FriedmanIan Smith
    University of MichiganIntel Labs SeattleUniversity of WashingtonEverbread, Ltd.
    Funded by the National Science Foundation IIS-0325035 and Intel.
    Thanks to Amanda Fondville and Charity Leang.