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States look to balance officials' safety with transparency

Unsplash/Andras Vas

As the 2024 campaigns are approaching, concerns are being raised over candidates' privacy and safety.

Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford) introduced HB 3968 in hopes of adding privacy protection measures to keep candidates' home addresses private.

“In light of all that was going on with the 2022 election, the premise for this piece of legislation was to focus on the election side of things,” West said. “All that was going on beyond the misinformation, but the potential of retaliation or threats from the misinformation. I brought this forward for the safety of candidates.”

West said the language of the bill is not what he intended. The bill, as currently written, would impact the dispersal of current and former officials’ information online, rather than address the security concerns of candidates such as the publishing of their address when filing with the State Board of Elections.

West said that he is holding off on moving the bill forward for now. He wants it to amend the election code, rather than the Public Official Privacy Act.

The concerns aren't unique to Illinois. Cindy Black, the executive director of Fix Democracy First, said that political violence is on the rise in many ways.

“We’re seeing a lot more threats....exposing personal information,” Black said. “Threats not just against elected officials, but their families, their children.”

With adding protection measures, there is the concern that restricting access to information could impeded transparency and accountability. Black said that the balance of transparency and privacy lies on the use of information.

“You know, if you’re sharing information to know who that person is, where they’re getting their money, I think that’s important information for the people that are going to vote for them,” Black said. “But when you start talking about using that information for intimidation, violence, and threats, that’s where I think it crosses the line.”

Many states have adopted bills to protect various public figures such as elected officials, judges, law enforcement and election workers.

In 2020 New Jersey passed Daniel’s Law and Florida debated similar legislation in SB 832. Laws specifically adding protections or redactions to online information are still relatively new.

The debate over the balance of privacy and security with transparency and accountability will continue as access to information continues to grow.

Cole is a graduate student reporter enrolled in the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS.
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