Politics

Alabama lawmakers vote to shield release of their personal information

Alabama lawmakers voted Thursday to include themselves in legislation that would allow judges, law enforcement and prosecutors to shield personal information from being released on public records, such as a home address, phone number or driver’s license number.

The Alabama Senate approved the House-passed bill that would allow law enforcement officials to request that their personal identifying information be redacted from public documents. But senators approved an amendment to add legislators to the list of occupations that could request that their information be shielded from public view. The bill has now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Measures to shield the release of personal information of judges, police officers and others have been introduced in multiple states following threats and attacks on public officials, including the 2020 fatal shooting of a federal judge’s son in New Jersey. But the measures add additional secrecy and have sometimes drawn criticism for potentially blocking information that could reveal conflicts of interests.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, offered the amendment to include lawmakers. The change was approved in the Senate and House of Representatives without debate.

Smitherman said in an interview that lawmakers have the same safety concerns as those in law enforcement.

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“We make a ruling on a controversial issue and you have some overzealous people who have a set opinion about it and want to express it in an unsafe manner,” Smitherman said. “That’s why we have security” at the Statehouse.

In 2021, the home of Sen. Vivian Davis Figures was shot into multiple times.

The bill states that state and local agencies and departments shall make a request form available “that allows a state legislator or law enforcement officer or employee to request the redaction of personal identifying information from the records of the department or agency.”

Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said Friday that the measure “would seem to be in conflict” with the information required on state ethics forms. Alabama lawmakers and other public officials are currently required to file annual financial disclosure forms with the Alabama Ethics Commission.

The bill was introduced to combat the “doxing” of law enforcement officers and court officials where information is gathered about them and posted online in an attempt to harass, threaten, shame or exact revenge. Doxing is a shortened version of “dropping dox” or documents.

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