FALMOUTH — Unsolicited email sent to subscribers to the town website is raising questions from recipients and from town officials, who are expected to consider legal action against the sender.
The town supplied resident Michael Doyle, a frequent critic of town government and policies, with the list of email addresses on May 31 after he submitted a formal request for the information under the state Freedom of Access Act.
On June 9 at 9:10 p.m. at least some of the more than 3,100 subscribers received a message with the subject “UPCOMING ELECTIONS” from the town’s News and Notices address. However the e-mail did not come from the town website or an authorized town official; it came from Doyle.
The email featured only a link to Doyle’s Falmouth Today website and a link to unsubscribe – from the town’s legitmate email updates, not from Doyle’s list.
Town Manager Nathan Poore said that he discovered the email at around 7 a.m. on June 10 and immediately began working with the town’s web hosting company, Virtual Town and Schools, to identify the sender and to prevent it from happening again.
“(Virtual Town and Schools) provided that list (of email subscribers) to us,” Poore said. “What they failed to do was redact a technical e-mail address, and there is a paragraph-long description that describes what this e-mail does, but the way to best summarize it is that this particular e-mail address is a portal to the back end of our website that allows authorized staff to post notices on our website from remote locations.”
According to Poore, the technical email address is used by authorized town officials to post notices when there are circumstances like flood watches or road closures or if they can’t, for whatever reason, access the website directly.
A second failure, Poore said, was that there were not permissions in place to prevent Doyle from using the technical email address.
“In a correct world, that address would not have accepted Mr. Doyle’s address, as opposed to one of our staff, myself or other authorized users,” he said.
Poore said Virtual Town and Schools does not usually get requests to turn over entire email lists, and the provider likely had not anticipated this as an issue. He also said he has been working with the company since Sunday morning to fix the problem, rebuilding the system with permissions and security features so that the same thing can’t happen again.
Town Councilor Chris Orestis said he began receiving phone calls from irate residents shortly after the email was received.
“People are outraged and they feel violated,” Orestic said. “They’ve gone onto the town’s website and signed up for notices (from the town). They certainly did not sign up to become a part of Michael Doyle’s email list.”
Oresitis and Poore both said they have received questions about security from residents, and at the Town Council meeting Monday night Poore assured people that personal information such as Social Security numbers and billing information were not at risk.
Councilor Tony Payne on Monday wanted to know if the town is considering taking legal action against Doyle.
“At this time our focus has been to secure the system to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen and to rebuild it to have the right security and permissions in place so it doesn’t happen again,” Poore said. “We have not yet had conversations about whether or not any action should be taken against Mr. Doyle, but it is likely that we will talk about it at some point.”
In a message to subscribers Tuesday, Poore also said the town does not believe citizen email address lists should be part of the public record. He said the town and the Maine Municipal Association plan to propose new legislation that would exempt those lists from future requests like Doyle’s.
Doyle on Tuesday refused to be interviewed, other than via email. The Forecaster declined that condition, because it would have prevented spontaneous responses and follow-up questions, and could not guarantee that answers provided to the newspaper’s questions were written by Doyle.
Also Monday, the council:
• Welcomed newly elected Councilors Karen Farber and Sean Mahoney, and unanimously elected Councilors Faith Varney and Bonnie Rodden as chairwoman and vice chairwoman, respectively.
• Heard a presentation on a pilot program for the removal of invasive species on town lands and voted 5-1, with Payne opposed, for the supplemental appropriation of $18,000 ($10,000 from the unassigned fund balance and $8,000 from grants) to fund the program for the 2013 fiscal year.
• Unanimously approved a new victular and food license for Della’s Dogs.