Following a furor over how the data would be used, the White House has shut down an electronic tip box — firstname.lastname@example.org — that was set up to receive information on “fishy” claims about President Barack Obama’s health plan.
E-mails to that address now bounce back with the message: “The e-mail address you just sent a message to is no longer in service. We are now accepting your feedback about health insurance reform via http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck.”
The “flag” service was introduced Aug. 4, with a White House blog post saying: “There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a briefing shortly after the service launched: “We’re not collecting names from those e-mails. … All we’re asking people to do is if they’re confused about what health care reform is going to mean to them, we’re happy to help clear that up for you. Nobody is keeping anybody’s names.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote a letter to Obama raising privacy concerns about what the senator called an “Obama monitoring program.”
“I can only imagine the level of justifiable outrage had your predecessor asked Americans to forward e-mails critical of his policies to the White House,” Cornyn wrote. “So I urge you to cease this program immediately.”
In a later statement, Cornyn said: “Of course the White House is collecting names. … It is inevitable. Anyone with access to the firstname.lastname@example.org account has access to the names and email addresses that are collected in that account. … How are they purging names and e-mail addresses from this account to protect privacy?”