Jeb Bush's emails: Total transparency or violation of privacy?

Jeb Bush's emails: Total transparency or violation of privacy?
Jeb Bush's emails: Total transparency or violation of privacy?
Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter

In an attempt to present himself as transparent, tech-savvy and approachable, Jeb Bush may have unintentionally violated the privacy of thousands of former Florida constituents.

The presumed Republican presidential candidate announced Tuesday that he’d be releasing an e-book illustrating his time as Florida governor through eight years' worth of personal emails with staffers and constituents. In addition to a “sneak peek” at the e-book’s first chapter, the entire email archives from Bush’s two gubernatorial terms were made available to the public on his website — “in the spirit of transparency.”

The sheer volume of 250,000 emails might have been enough to discourage anyone from digging through the correspondence, and the presumption was that since Bush released the emails himself, the chance that they contained anything juicy was slim. Indeed, the extent of the juiciness in the carefully curated “sneak peek” at Chapter 1 is the revelation that Jeb Bush is the kind of boss who emails his staff outside of office hours, throws around the occasional Spanglish term — “let us discuss manana” — and tends to emphasize his curiosity with as many as 10 question marks at a time.

But a quick peek at the broader Bush email archives reveals that Bush’s document dump wasn’t handled with care at all.

“Some are funny; some are serious; some I wrote in frustration,” Bush wrote in an introduction to the emails on his website. Some detail government operations and hiring procedures. And some contain the unredacted phone numbers, home addresses, and even — as the Verge first pointed out — the Social Security numbers of the people who emailed him. Every published email includes the email addresses of the recipient and the sender.

Bush may have chosen to adopt the sunshine approach to running the Sunshine State, but that doesn’t mean the many Floridians who reached out to the governor during his two terms in office were prepared to be subject to the same level of transparency.

The dump includes Bush’s correspondence with Floridians of all kinds, from retirees and schoolteachers to state and local politicians. Some of the emails, such as this one from then-Florida State Sen. John E. Thrasher following the 9/11 attacks, include an explicit confidentiality disclaimer, warning against copying or distribution.

It wasn’t very helpful in protecting against publication, and most Floridians don't have such confidentiality warnings attached to their emails. Many of Bush’s constituents, however, included their phone numbers and home addresses at the bottom of emails discussing a range of personal issues, from political beliefs and financial frustrations to medical and even emotional struggles. In appealing to the governor for help with medical or employment issues, some even sent along their Social Security numbers.

In addition to citizens’ contact information, the unredacted emails offer up potentially harmful information about Floridians’ employment disputes, health issues and legal troubles.

In one concerning exchange, a military veteran petitioned Bush to help his daughter fight charges that she provided marijuana to students while working as a substitute teacher. The emails include the daughter’s first and last names, a description of her mental health issues, the school where she was a substitute teacher, and other personal details. The outcome of the young woman’s legal battle is unknown, but her case does not appear to have been covered in the news at the time. Her father’s now-public emails to Bush contain the kinds of damning details that could potentially damage her chances at employment.

One woman, who was reached by the Daily Dot via the email address published on Bush’s website, said she never gave any kind of permission for her emails to be published. Then again, she was never told that they were confidential. “They were just emails,” she said.

“I am fine with it on the emails concerning homeowner's insurance,” the woman wrote. It’s the ones she wrote about “illegal immigrants” that embarrassed her. “My feelings have changed on that subject and I wold [sic] hate to unduly upset anyone.”

Jeb Bush released 250,000 emails from his eight years as Florida Governor.
Jeb Bush released 250,000 emails from his eight years as Florida Governor.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bush spokesperson Kristy Campbell released this statement to BuzzFeed News:

This is an exact replica of the public records on file with the Florida Department of State and are available at anyone’s request under Chapter 119 sunshine laws. Regarding exempt personal identifying information, the Florida Department of State or the Executive of the Governor can share more background on exemptions under Florida Statute and the state’s process of for these.

Time magazine reporter Zeke Miller tweeted from an interview with Bush that his response to a question about the private information released in the emails was, “We’re going to take it off.” What exactly that means remains to be seen.

 UPDATE: In a more recent statement to BuzzFeed, Bush's spokesperson said that, “Last year, we requested the State specifically comply with Florida statute regarding exemptions and redactions.

“We have redacted personal identifying information from two emails brought to our attention," she said. "We are doing an electronic search for any additional emails that may fall into this category and will do the same.”