Friday, 9 January 2004
Declan explains on C|NET that in March 2003 TTB solicited comments from the general public on "a proposal that could raise the price of malt beverages like Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice." The Bureau promised: "For the convenience of the public, we will…post comments received in response to this notice on the TTB Web site. All comments posted on our Web site will show the name of the commenter, but will not show street addresses, telephone numbers, or e-mail addresses." Far be it from us to expect an express promise to be kept. Fortunately (for democratic interests) but unfortunately (for TTB), the agency was overwhelmed with comments.
As news of the proposed regulations circulated around malt beverage aficionados online, word-of-mouth took over and comments started flooding in to email@example.com. By October, the Treasury Department had received about 9,900 e-mail messages, plus 4,800 comments sent through the U.S. mail or fax — and decided it could no longer keep its promise.
If a private company pulled a stunt like this and published the addresses of 10,000 people, its executives would go to prison. The government, however, has a long history of treating itself differently. See, for example, Congress' eagerness to spam voters a week after passing the CAN-SPAM Act.