Here’s a chilling article about a government agency deliberately violating a promise not to publish e-mail addresses of people commenting on a proposed government regulation – for no reason except that it’s inconvenient to honor the promise. Spammers harvest e-mail addresses listed on web sites, so the government is assisting in inundating 10,000 people with junk mail. Merchants who commented might find themselves picketed or boycotted. So people that commented are punished, and the government deters people from commenting in the future. It’s outrageous, and particularly ironic coming from an administration obsessed with keeping its own affairs secret.

The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau invited public comments on a proposed regulation, and stated explicitly that all identifying information would be removed before comments were posted on the web site. The initial notice said, “All comments posted on our Web site will show the name of the commenter, but will not show street addresses, telephone numbers, or e-mail addresses.”

The regulation affects malt beverages and word got around on the web among aficionados. The Treasury Department got about 10,000 e-mail messages and another 4,800 mail and fax comments. Apparently the volume of comments annoyed them, so they decided to go ahead and publish the e-mail addresses of every person who commented, along with street addresses and telephone numbers.

“The unusually large number of comments received…has made it difficult to remove all street addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses from the comments for posting on our Internet Web site in a timely manner,” the Treasury Department said in a follow-up notice, published last month in the Federal Register. “Therefore, to ensure that the public has Internet access to the thousands of comments received…at the earliest practicable time, we will post comments received on that notice on our Web site in full, including any street addresses, telephone numbers, or e-mail addresses contained in the comments.”

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