A judge ruled last month that the City of Hoboken has to disclose the email addresses of their Nixle subscribers, prompting the city to launch a survey to determine how to proceed.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“The City of Hoboken recently received a decision in the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) litigation matter, Carmine Sodora v. City of Hoboken et al., which would require the City to disclose the email addresses of all residents and individuals who signed up for Nixle alerts,” the city wrote in a Nixle alert last night.
“The City strongly objected to the disclosure on privacy grounds. Neither Nixle (also known as Everbridge) nor the City of Hoboken has ever disclosed email addresses or private information collected through Nixle, to any third parties, as a matter of policy.”
The alert continued that when a resident subscribes, they receives a message that their information is not shared with the city and they may unsubscribe at any time.
The survey, which is open until June 22nd at 7 p.m., asks five questions along the lines of if subscribers expected privacy when they signed up, how important their privacy is, and finally if they believe the city should appeal the decision.
On May 26th, Camden County Superior Court Judge Deborah Silverman Katz ruled in favor of Sodora as part of three combined OPRA cases in a 50-page decision.
” … This court has already held that the third-party agencies acted in a governmental manner so as to implicate the statutory reach of OPRA. If some category of information would be public when held by the government, then is makes little sense that it is now private merely because a third party holds it,” she ruled.
“Such a holding would be the foundation by which governments could circumvent their public disclosure requirements. For these reasons, the court does not find that the requested records are exempt from OPRA as proprietary information.”
She concludes that this decision is hardly an anomaly, noting that “the majority of courts in this country” have extended OPRA laws to private companies, also acknowledging that some states have left matters like these to the judiciary.
“Because this issue cannot be solved through text alone, states have left this issue to the judiciary, recognizing the ever-evolving needs of public disclosure. Moreover, this decision continues to upholds their states’ renowned legacy of broad transparency under OPRA and protects our citizens’ rights to public access.”
In a statement, Mayor Ravi Bhalla said the city does not plan on sharing residents’ private information with a third party contractor and indicated the city will more than likely appeal.
“The City of Hoboken has no interest in sharing our residents’ private contact information with any third party. I believe the court’s decision violates the trust our residents place in us to safeguard their contact information, information we rely on to disseminate vital emergency notifications in a crisis and important government information,” he said.
“This decision will have a chilling effect on our ability to effectively communicate and protect our residents who may now no longer wish to disclose their contact information. As Mayor I have no interest in releasing the personal email information of any Hoboken resident, and based on the feedback from the community, we will continue to fight in the courts to ensure that residents’ private information remains just that, private.”