White House Changes E-Mail Practices After Spam Complaints

An e-mail address intended for citizens to report anything “fishy” on the Web regarding health insurance reform — flag@whitehouse.gov — has been shut down and all feedback must now go through the White House’s Reality Check Web site. That’s according to a post from Macon Phillips, director of new media, on the White House blog.

The changes were made after privacy concerns were raised when individuals complained of receiving e-mails about health care reform they had not signed up for, as first reported by Politico.

The Reality Check Web site, which provides videos and tools about health insurance reform, also makes a note on its contact page to “please refrain from submitting any individual’s personal information, including their e-mail address, without their permission.”

A White House representative did not respond to requests for comment.

However, the post from Phillips Monday night said that the people who may have been subscribed to White House e-mail lists without their knowledge were likely signed up as a result of third party groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

He goes on to say, “We’re certainly not interested in anyone receiving e-mails from the White House who don’t want them. That’s one reason why we never — and will never — add names from a commercial or political list to the White House list.”

As a result, Phillips says the White House has implemented measures on its Web site to boost the security of its mailing list and says it will evaluate the signups it has already received. He also explains that each message contains an unsubscribe link at the bottom that makes it easy to stop unwanted e-mails.

Phillips also remains optimistic about messages from the White House, noting that more people signed up for updates last week than during the month of July.

When the Reality Check site launched earlier this month, Phillips wrote in a separate blog post that the intention was to combat misinformation and he asked the public to help the White House keep track of rumors about health care reform by reporting them to the flag@whitehouse.gov address.

This raised some eyebrows — including from Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas — who saw it as a potential data collection program that might violate the First Amendment.

Sen. Cornyn wrote a letter to President Obama on August 5, asking him to cease the program immediately or to respond to his questions about how the White House intended to use the names and e-mails of citizens who reported fishy speech.

“I am not aware of any precedent for a President asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed ‘fishy’ or otherwise inimical to the White House’s political interests,” Cornyn wrote.

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