The Idaho House approved a measure which would protect the identity of anyone who purchases any type of hunting license from the state of Idaho. The vote among House members was 55-14 to approve the measure, which now heads to the Senate.
The bill is the product of Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who, in the committee hearing on the bill, said that she believes “that one of the reasons for government is to protect its citizens, and I feel that’s what this bill will do.” The legislation provides that all licenses issued by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, a piece of legislation designed to give the public greater access to government records and documents. Boyle noted that not only deer, elk, and wolf tags would be protected, but wolf-kill permits, typically issued to farmers and ranchers as a herd-protection measure, would also fall under the exemption.
Boyle said that on the second day of the wolf hunt in Idaho in 2009, she received a call from a concerned wolf hunter who was the subject of harassment from wolf advocates. The man who contacted Boyle had purchased a license from the state, killed a wolf, and subsequently had his personal information posted online by Rick Hobson. On the House floor, Boyle read from a website posted by that constituent, which lists harassing e-mails received after his information was posted online by a wolf advocate. (View the website here. Warning: some comments contain explicit language.)
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said Boyle's plan missed the target and would only work to close records to the public. King argued that privacy laws shouldn't be tightened, but said that stalking laws should actually be strengthened to prevent harassment.
Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur D'Alene, said the bill presents a conflict between the right of privacy and the right of the freedom of the press, and goes too far in protecting hunters because it protects hunters who might not be hunting controversial game, such as elk or deer.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said the responsibility of government is to protect the citizenry from harassment. Wood said that people have the right to their opinions on wolf hunting, but making bodily threats takes it too far. She added that protection of citizens is more important than openness of government for newspapers.
A former newspaper publisher, Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said that he has dealt with government privacy issues in the past and debated in opposition to the measure, because he said the legislation "flies in the face" of the state's constitution. Hartgen said he would favor King's idea of strengthening anti-harassment and anti-stalking laws as a solution for the harassment suffered by hunters.
Anonymity on the Internet prevents effective enforcement of anti-harassment laws, said Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls. Simpson argued that the only manner in which Idaho can protect hunters is exempting their names from public records requests.
"How do we go after Nobody-1321418 (one of the bloggers who posted on the website mentioned above)?" said Simpson.
"Forget the media," said Lenore Hardy Barret, R-Challis. Barret joined Boyle in claiming that the right of protection guaranteed to citizens by the government is more important than the media's "obsession" with government records.
(Note: The man who initially posted hunters' personal information online, Rick Hobson, thinks Boyle's bill is an assault on free speech. Read his comments here.)
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