I think Rod's right, here. If the practice of publicizing how people contribute money to or participate in various political causes becomes a popular one, won't that ultimately have the effect of making some people--perhaps many people--simply decide not to contribute or participate?
We went round and round this morning in the editorial board meeting about a particular issue, and didn't come to a resolution. We're going to talk about it again next week. In the meantime, I'd like to solicit opinion from our readers.
At issue is Eightmaps.com, a website put up by opponents of Prop 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned the state supreme court's legalization of gay marriage. The site's owners -- who, tellingly, are anonymous -- have taken publicly available information about people who gave to the Prop 8 campaign, and combined it with Google maps. Result: an electronic map to the homes of everyone who gave money to the campaign to overturn gay marriage.
I think this is a terrible development, and here's why. Given that there has been harrassment by gay radicals of people who supported Prop 8, it is potentially dangerous that it's now easy to find your way to the homes of these donors -- even small donors. Think of it this way: what if a radical fundamentalist group gathered the names and home addresses of donors to pro-gay causes, and created an online map to their homes? Or what if anti-abortion radicals created a map to the homes of Planned Parenthood donors? Is that really the way we want to go in this society? I think not.
My view is that whatever your cause, to use publicly available information in this way will have a chilling effect on the willingness of ordinary people to participate in the political process. At the moment, I don't believe that donors should be kept anonymous, but you watch: the first time someone gets hurt in their home, whether its over Prop 8 or some other controversial political issue involving geotagging and private addresses, there's going to be a move to privatize donor lists. And I'm not at all sure I'd be against that.
What if, for instance, someone sent your city government employer a picture of you participating at a local pro-life march held this week. What if this caused your employer to fire you on the grounds that you believe in "harassing" women for "exercising their right to choose." Would you have any legal recourse? In all likelihood it would depend on the employment laws of your state.
Now imagine that prospective employers can simply type in your home address on a few websites of the "Eightmaps" variety to find out if you contribute to political causes your employer doesn't approve of, such as pro-life causes, anti-gay marriage causes, or other things of that nature. You might be turned down for job after job without ever learning that some cause you've contributed to makes you "unemployable" in today's rather liberal corporate social environment.
Many of those who participate in the comment boxes at Crunchy Cons didn't see any sort of problem with Eightmaps, though. Some thought all political activity on the part of private citizens should be available for review by anyone interested in such research; others, somewhat predictably, thought that haters and bigots who wanted to deprive gay couples of matrimony were fair game to be held up to shame on public websites, and insisted that gays have been dealing with exactly this same sort of harassment for so long now that it's only fair for heterosexuals to experience it (though nobody has, as of yet, created a map tool for finding out where those who give heavily to pro-gay marriage causes live; I imagine there will be some outrage if/when that happens).
I can't help but think that one's political donations, like one's vote, ought to be kept quiet--except for direct contributions to candidates. Supporting an issue or a cause shouldn't be enough to get your name on the map, so to speak--especially when the map is a tool of intimidation created by one's opponents. Things like Eightmaps do not enrich political discourse; if anything, we're all a little poorer when bullying tactics enter the political sphere.