A bill exempting taxpayers’ email addresses from the state’s open record law Tuesday cleared a Senate committee on a 7 – 0 vote. Sen. Jack Latvala argues the proposal protects consumers from scammers who use digital skills to defraud people.
“We want to protect people from being ripped off. It’s fraud,” said Latvala who had chaperoned a similar proposal through the Senate last year only to watch it die in the House.
“They have the ability to email someone a facsimile of their tax bill and ask them to pay it electronically to a source other than the tax collector and that is a concern,” said Latvala about cyber criminals.
Latvala said the open records exemption is needed because email addresses when combined with other personal information can be used for identity theft and other scams. The bill makes an email address provided to a tax collector exempt if it was provided for a citizen to receive a quarterly tax notice, or to obtain the citizen’s consent to send a tax notice.
Open government advocates have protested the measure. Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation last year told the Tampa Tribune there is no evidence that email addresses lead to identity theft.
However, at Tuesday’s committee meeting five county taxpayers told Senators they supported Latvala’s proposal. Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson explained that taxpayers provide their email address for convenience and then can be deceived when they receive a fraudulent tax bill and instructions on how to pay it.
“This is consumer protection; they will make their website look just like mine and you would think you are receiving an email from Diane Nelson, Tax Collector,” explained the Pinellas County Tax Collector after the meeting.
“I just spoke to a cybercrime expert the other day and an FBI special agent got scammed. If he can get it, anyone can,” said Nelson.