Unwelcome advances: LegiStorm tracks minors, former employees

LegiStorm's tracking policies have been causing a good deal of controversy on Capitol Hill. Photo: AP Photo

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2013 ― Recently, the Congress-focused research company LegiStorm made waves publicizing its 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.”  

Congressional staffers raged as they logged into their complimentary LegiStorm access accounts to discover that LegiStorm had also published their personal LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles. 

However, LegiStorm’s offenses have not stopped there.  LegiStorm has a section on staffers’ profiles for “Biographical Information,” where, among other things, known family members are listed.  LegiStorm claims to have obtained all of this information from a “variety of sources, including the public record, online profiles, news articles, wedding announcements, and personal wedding websites.”

Several Congressional staff members were uneasy that their LegiStorm profiles include the locations and dates of their marriages.

Many staffers are uncomfortable with this information being sold publicly to LegiStorm customers. Other items that LegiStorm could release based on their ‘public record’ justification include personal phone numbers, addresses, employers, parents’ employers, dates of birth, height, weight, race, and voting records.  

Even if these items are factually accurate, should LegiStorm post them about Hill staffers for the sake of “transparency in government?” LegiStorm particularly should know that stalkers frequently harass Hill staffers, making threats to them and their family members (which can now be handily found on LegiStorm.)

Also appalling is that LegiStorm tracks and provides such information about Hill staffers who are minors, or were minors at the time of employment. Although the highly esteemed House of Representatives Page Program was eliminated in 2010, the separate Senate Page Program continues providing high school juniors with the rewarding experience of working for the US Congress.  

Pages were supposed to be protected from most press and other outside inquiries, as they were still legally minors. Nevertheless, Pages from both programs have had sensitive biographical information published on LegiStorm. In a nation where misdemeanor records are sealed once minors become adults, no such restriction applies to the wandering fingers of LegiStorm’s database.

The LegiStorm controversy has made waves of anger that extend past the circles of current Capitol Hill employees. LegiStorm is still compiling and publishing sensitive information on people who left their Congressional staff positions over five years ago. This may come as a shock to thousands of “retired” Congressional staffers that now work in different fields. 

When will LegiStorm stop following former employees? For how many years will LegiStorm continue stalking them, following their lives, and updating their profiles for mentally deranged stalkers to follow them? Many Congressional staffers do not even put their biographical information on Facebook, and they surely don’t want others selling it. A reasonably valid purpose may be served in providing such information for current or recent staff. Publishing it about minors or employees that left over five years ago is drastically overreaching.

Recently, a former Page called LegiStorm about his profile, which now displays family members. He was told that if the information is accurate, it will remain on their profile, even over their objections. The former staffer is concerned about LegiStorm continuing to track them: When he has children, will LegiStorm list them as well? Because of their paid work in Congress as a minor, will they now always be under the scrutiny of LegiStorm? If they become a Foreign Service Officer, must they worry that enemies can look them up on LegiStorm to find and threaten their family? After receiving the complaint, LegiStorm has added another section to the former Page’s profile with even more information. 

LegiStorm provides a “premium service” of information on more than 80,000 Congressional staff in their database, and it is estimated that approximately 50,000 of those staff are no longer employed by Congress. LegiStorm has responded that they “do not track Congressional staff their whole lives.”

 

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John Paul Cassil

John Paul Cassil studied Business Management (Entrepreneurship) and Political Science, recently graduating from Clemson University with the highest GPA of all business majors in his class. Cassil currently performs business analysis for the Secretary's Office of the U.S. Department of State, with an active Top Secret Security Clearance. 

Cassil has extensively traveled throughout Europe, the US, and the Middle East. He's lived across the American South, in Belgium, Kuwait, and Israel. He has interests in politics and foreign policy, having participated in numerous Model United Nations conferences around the world, including Harvard World MUN in Taipei, Taiwan and Princeton's 2008 Youth Initiative for Progress in Iraq Conference, in Amman, Jordan. 

In 2007, Cassil was appointed as a U.S. House of Representatives Republican Cloakroom Page by Speaker of the House John Boehner. Cassil has since worked for Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, as well as South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson's successful campaign. 

In College, Cassil served as the Managing Editor and Media Director of Clemson's Tiger Town Observer, as well as the Founder and Chairman of Clemson's Young Americans for Freedom. He has spoken about his collegiate activism at national conferences of organizations such as the Young America's Foundation and Eagle Forum. He has written articles for both The Washington Times Communities and Roll Call.

To find out more about Cassil, visit www.johncassil.com.

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This column does not express the opinions of the U.S. Government or any of its agencies.

 

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