Mayor's office staff busy mining the data goldmine they received by way of a petition
I just received a copy of an urgent notice from the West End Neighbours association (WEN) whereby they slam Vancouver Mayor Gregor's office for what they believe to be an invasion of privacy. It smacks of the new Vision City Hall paradigm on personal privacy written about by Mike Klassen recently.
A number of the 11,000+ people who signed a petition against spot zoning approvals in the West End are beginning to receive direct marketing from the Mayor's office. Here is a copy of the letter in its entirety (our emphasis):
We're sorry for sending two messages in one week. This is a special situation alert as a courtesy to let you know what is going on.
To the thousands who have signed the WEN petition, we regret to report that the Mayor's Office has been gleaning your personal contact information from the petition forms for sending messages that we find objectionable as the misuse of personal information the Mayor acquired by the petition. This practice by the Mayor's Office has implications for citizens' initiatives all over Vancouver.
West End Neighbours has written to the Mayor asking him to stop this use of your personal information, and to Vancouver's Privacy Officer to investigate. You can see copy of the e-mail from the Mayor's Office as well as our letter to the Mayor on our website here.
(If you have received an e-mail or other unsolicited contact you believe to originate from your signing of WEN's "No Rezoning Without a Comprehensive Plan" petition, please let us know at info@WestEndNeighbours.com, with your comments.)
We remind you that the deadline for a survey by the Mayor's West End Advisory Committee is Friday, June 10. Last week we wrote to the Mayor expressing our concerns about the Committee and its survey. (He has not yet responded.) If you intend to complete the survey (or if you plan to complete another copy), we welcome you to review our comments about the survey here, before you complete it.
We are also trying to obtain fresh information about WEMAC's upcoming schedule of activities, without success. We have concerns about where this is all going, but expect things to become clearer within the next few weeks. Updates will be posted on our website.
West End Neighbours
Here is a copy of the letter Randy Helten (a one-time big Vision supporter) sent to the Mayor's office:
WEST END NEIGHBOURS’ LETTER TO MAYOR, JUNE 9, 2011
Dear Mayor Robertson,
cc Vancouver City Council, City Manager Penny Ballem
We are writing to formally request, on record, that you instruct your office to immediately stop data entry and the sending of e-mail messages to addresses you have acquired from West End Neighbours’ “No Rezoning without a Comprehensive Plan” petition sheets.
West End Neighbours (WEN) learned yesterday that your office is using this personal contact information for the purpose of promoting the “Vancouver Mayor’s Office Newsletter.” The same message from your office (see below) is also promoting a survey by the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC), about which we sent you a written complaint on June 2 (and still await acknowledgement and response).
We have numerous concerns regarding the Mayor’s Office’s use of personal information obtained through any citizens’ petition.
We believe that the use of the personal email contacts and other information from a petition for the purposes of building the Mayor’s newsletter mailing list is inappropriate. Sections 32 and 34(1) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act are clear. The City must ensure that personal information in its custody or under its control is used only for the purpose for which that information was obtained or compiled, or for a use consistent with that purpose. The personal information on our petition was submitted to Vancouver City Council with regard to concerns of the 11,500 signatories about rezoning and the need for a comprehensive plan in the West End. We promised signatories that their privacy would be protected and are certain that they did not intend their signature to elicit an invitation to receive a city-wide newsletter mailing from the office of the Mayor. We note that your office did not contact WEN to indicate its intent in advance, to use the personal information on the WEN petition for this purpose, which at least would have been a minimum courtesy.
For the reasons stated above, we hereby:
Restate our request that your office immediately stop the entry of data and sending e-mail to addresses acquired from WEN’s “No Rezoning without a Comprehensive Plan” petition sheets, until further clarifications can be made to WEN’s satisfaction.
Request a written confirmation from the City that from this point onward, information will be used only for the purpose of communication on topics specifically related to the petition content, and for no other purpose. (We would also like to know how many of our petitioners have already been sent the Mayor’s office’s e-mail message.)
Request an assurance from the City that this private information has not been and will not be disclosed to any other party, including advisory committees, elector organizations, persons not employed by the City, or external consultants.
We hope that you will show the courtesy of respecting our position, and that you will have the desire to build public trust by recognizing our concerns and requests.
President, West End Neighbours
Once again, the Mayor appears to be unnecessarily causing a stir in this neighbourhood. Readers may recall that Vision's former paid blogger wrote this threatening post aimed at Randy Helten, suggesting that he knew where Helten's family members lived:
Do you have a family member who owns property across the street from the 22-storey high-rise rental apartment tower on the site of St John’s Church at 1401 Comox Street?
Also, does another family member of yours own a penthouse unit above the TD bank on Bidwell and Davie, which is across the street from a proposed 19-story tower?
It appears that when it comes to getting what Mayor Gregor wants in the West End, scruples are secondary.
We'll continue to monitor this over the coming days to see how many of the signatories to the petition end up filing complaints to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.