NEW ORLEANS-- The ACLU of Louisiana strongly supports the privacy rights of displaced New Orleans residents who have applied for assistance from FEMA. The Federal Privacy Act, which governs information about individuals who have applied for assistance, protects them against scam artists, abusive spouses, data miners, and a host of others who would misuse the information, if it became public.
"While the ACLU understands that candidates will have a more difficult time reaching dislocated voters, the privacy rights of those individuals far outweigh the narrower interests of office seekers," according to Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "People should not have to give up their privacy to receive a government benefit."
According to a FEMA attorney, the application information was shared with Attorney General Foti under the "civil enforcement' exception in the Privacy Act for the sole purpose of compiling a mailing list of displaced registered voters to send them information on absentee voting. FEMA only supplied the information after Louisiana showed that an election was an essential governmental function. The list cannot be used for any other purpose.
The ACLU wants to help dislocated voters have the opportunity to vote absentee and make an informed choice. To that end, an initiative is underway to work with nonpartisan groups to provide voters' rights materials and encourage the distribution of unbiased candidate information in known population centers.
Our right to vote is one of the most important democratic freedoms. People cannot govern themselves without the opportunity to choose their leaders in open and honest elections. At the same time, freedom and democracy cannot exist absent the right to privacy, which takes precedence in this case and must be protected.