Sunlight Foundation Gives Congress Email Addresses

from the shouldn't-congress-have-done-that? dept

The Sunlight Foundation has struck again where the government failed to act. If you've tried to contact your elected representatives in the US Congress, you may have noticed it's not that easy. You have to go through a layer of annoying forms that seem much more designed to get you to not contact your elected officials. However, the good folks at the Sunlight Foundation, working with inspiration from EFF, have decided to do something about it, working through the forms to create an actual email address for every member of Congress that avoids having to go through the full form process. So, if you go to Rep. John Boehner's page you now see the email address that Sunlight Foundation / OpenCongress have given him:
Now, of course, one of the reasons that Congress has made it so difficult to email your elected officials is to deal with the spam problem. If it was entirely public, the fear is, they'd get inundated with spam and that could, potentially, destroy the usefulness of email contact with constituents. The system here seems to be designed to try to minimize that risk, though it may (potentially) limit the usefulness of some of this effort:
The first time we get an email from you, we'll send one back asking for some additional details. This is necessary because our code submits your message by navigating those aforementioned congressional webforms, and we don't want to enter incorrect information. But for emails after the first one, all you'll have to do is click a link that says, "Yes, I meant to send that email."

One more thing: For now, our system will only let you email your own representatives. A lot of people dislike this. We do, too. In an age of increasing polarization, party discipline means that congressional leaders must be accountable to citizens outside their districts. But the unfortunate truth is that Congress typically won't bother reading messages from non-constituents — that's why those zip code requirements exist in the first place. Until that changes, we don't want our users to waste their time.
This is a small step forward, but good to see no matter what.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 17th, 2014 @ 9:01pm

    Response from Joe Congressperson

    "OMG! We have to listen to the public now?!"


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Whatever, Jun 17th, 2014 @ 9:17pm

    In a related story...

    In a related story, members of the house and congress announced that they are all changing their email addresses, and the existing ones will be sent to the same spam filters and pre-processing that their other addresses use to get.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2014 @ 11:49pm

    Re: In a related story...

    Which was then followed by the Sunlight Foundation doing this all over again, just to prove to the government they can't hide from the public anymore.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Whatever, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:54am

    Re: Re: In a related story...

    Followed by the members of congress moving away from email entirely. Publishing email addresses like this just leads to spam, automated mail in campaigns, and other stupidities that make email useless. It allows those with technical ability and an axe to grind the ability to overwhelm the system and make legitimate discussion nearly impossible.

    It's one of those cases where the goal is noble, the reality is more failure and less success for everyone.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 2:01am

    Re: In a related story...

    The service doesn't send emails to senators. It provides an email address for the senator that maps to a service that fills in the senator's contact form for you, based on information you give to it. It then remembers your details so the next time you send an email to the same senator, it reuses the same personal information in the contact form. To the senator, these "emails" are indistinguishable to any other request through their contact form.

    I can't see that it would be any easier for automated mailing systems to use this service than it would be to auto-fill the form themselves. I don't live in the US, so can't confirm what the experience is like.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    alternatives(), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:50am

    If money is speech....

    In an age of increasing polarization, party discipline means that congressional leaders must be accountable to citizens outside their districts.

    If they accept money from outside the district and money is speech and speech meets the 'redress for grievances' part of some 'goddamned piece of paper' then "party discipline" is the least of the worries.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    TestPilotDummy, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:13am

    EW - Electronic Warfare

    The fact that this is convoluted as it is, is evidence this is electronic warfare against the people.

    The warfare part is as mentioned, all the forms requirements for extra input like zipcode for example is a EW FILTER to filter out all voices not in that location. Meanwhile there are oath breaking scum passing firearms grabbing Constitution hating nonsense which DO effect the people in other locations outside that ZIP. Not to mention the unconstitutional spying and endless undeclared war

    When I first loaded this article up, I was HOPING you were going to say you got their ACTUAL email address, you know, so I can fire up thebat or kmail or something and TYPE the
    address in. (not that I will bother to write them anymore, as it feels more like writing the enemy now ~ EXAMPLE: via the Feinstein Form Bullet Point Propagand Reply's. (you know the emails you get from her with PDF attachments, and bullet talking points having absolutely NOTHING to do with the specific points you were talking about, and furthermore providing ZERO context to your original body of TEXT you sent. Scum dual ISRAEL/US citizen oath breaker mosad warmonger psychopath)

    This is only Form Link workarounds --- the data might be filled in wrong when one or more of the Senators Forms change on their contact page(s).

    Again, why would I bother writing to MOSAD about Security again?

    I will give ya this, It makes it possible for SOME com's with these so-called rep's, it doesn't solve the underlyin problem however.

    So my only question is which two people are going to start the TREASON cases against these oath breaking scum?

    Cause until they are gone, none of this matters, You can spend 18 + hour days on POPVOX and get your email stuffed with a bunch of crap by these oath breakers too. I know cause I been down that ROAD ALREADY! And what's worse is trying to track your LOCAL gov. You know CAFR audit, City, Waste Management, Chemtrail/geoengineering, Sports arenas/Tax, High Speed Trains/UN Agenda 21, Cannabis (funny how states can nullify feds when it is important), BLM/ Agenda 21 land grab/sustainablity cruft/ICLEI and co. Yeah try to keep up with Sacramento's assembly. uh huh.. yeah.

    I've been treated to heaping doses of arrogance, propaganda, lies, ignorance, different spins on the delphi technique, obvsucation, propriatary formats, systems down/broken//glitched/no index/no search engine(using GOOGLE for City-State websites!!!) On and on and on and on

    TIF SCANNED PDF's as CAFR reports!



    I don't know what else to say anymore. In the past decade I have watched as they have completely gutted the constitution and bill of rights.

    So What next?
    Nazi Germany 2.0 (electronic version) that's what.

    America has become Fascist Amerika

    And psychopath commie mosad warmongers behind the thieving murdering banksters have us in this pickle.

    There's nobody to VOTE for, why are you bitching about their EMAIL at this point?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    art guerrilla (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re: In a related story...

    1. i have ZERO doubt that - as the author mentions- the present system is more to DISCOURAGE email contacts, and it does... a tactic far too many companies, etc take...

    2. the idiotic 'forms' TOO MANY companies, etc give you to 'email' on their web site are usually crappy, as far as you get a -literally- postage-stamp-sized dialog box to input your 500 characters (or whatever they feel like limiting you to)...

    3. for me, one of the major drawbacks, is you have NO RECORD (assuming you didn't go to the bother to cut/paste after you enter the text) of the correspondence... ESPECIALLY annoying when attempting to contact businesses with a question or complaint that may go back and forth...

    4. from what i have been told repeatedly about contacting kongresskritters, email is at the bottom of their priority list: the order of most effective contact is, personal visit, phone call, fax, written letter, and email sucks hind titty... i doubt it goes beyond their staff droids who *MIGHT* tally them up 'for/against' a particular issue...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:22am


    How are you supposed to contact members of committees, such as education, health, welfare, etc.?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    art guerrilla (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:35am

    Re: EW - Electronic Warfare

    can't disagree with your last point, it DOES kind of make contacting them a fool's game: you don't have a couple thou to put in their chitinous claws when you go to talk to them at some ritzy fund-raising party, FORGET about it, you are beneath consideration, a mere citizen of no importance...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:40am

    Re: Re: Re: In a related story...

    Perhaps open congress ought to setup an office in DC that prints all these emails and delivers them daily to Congressional offices.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Rich Kulawiec, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re: Re: In a related story...

    "Publishing email addresses like this just leads to spam"

    This kind of completely erroneous thinking is part of the mythos surrounding spam. It's not only wrong, but it's damaging.

    Spammers have myriad ways of building (and verifying) immense databases of addresses. They've gotten VERY good at it. If an email address is in use: they have it. You can't hide it. You can't obfuscate it. You can't bury it behind forms. Oh you can try...but it won't work.

    That doesn't necessarily mean that they'll use it. They often don't for various reasons, ranging from programming errors to deliberate avoidance. But it is a serious strategic error to presume that just because a particular address isn't targeted that it isn't known to them.

    The best course of action is to simply publish them -- unobfuscated -- and then to use the defenses that we've developed over 30 years of fighting spam. Any mail system admin worthy of the title should be able to block 95% of spam (with a tiny false positive rate) in an afternoon. Given a week that should be up to 99%. It doesn't take appliances and services and it certainly doesn't take outsourcing email to the ignorant newbies at Gmail: it just takes uses open-source software and well-known, tested, documented techniques. They work beautifully when properly applied, they scale, they're quite difficult for spammers to game, and they use minimal computing resources.

    There's no valid reason for making people jump through hoops, fill out badly-designed forms, etc. It does nothing except impair communication and waste a lot of time.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re: Re: In a related story...

    Regarding your 4th point there, that all depends on your Congressperson. My US Rep Tom Cole has ignored almost every email I have sent him. On the other hand, Senator Inhofe will almost always send me a form letter that was churned out after pushing the email through a key word search. Finally Senator Coburn has always responded with a personalized response, probably written by a staffer but never a form response, within a month of me sending the email.

    Three different Congresspersons, three different reactions to email.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:46am

    Re: committees

    For now, you will have to do it the old fashion way.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:58am

    Privacy Act of 1974

    Privacy Act of 1974 - see Wiki

    Not sure if this applies to the legislative branch of the fed. gov.

    13 CFR 102.22 - Requirements relating to systems of records.

    (b) Requests for information from individuals. If a form is being used to collect information from individuals, either the form used to collect the information, or a separate form that can be retained by the individual, must state the following:
    (1) The authority (whether granted by statute, or by Executive Order of the President) which authorizes the solicitation of the information and whether disclosure of such information is mandatory or voluntary;
    (2) The principal purpose or purposes for which the information is intended to be used;
    (3) The routine uses which may be made of the information; and
    (4) The effects on such individual, if any, of not providing all or any part of the requested information.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Michael, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 6:19am

    Re: Response from Joe Congressperson

    Hell no.

    They can email you, but you can still continue to ignore them.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    foggyworld, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 7:07am

    Congressional email addresses

    It's not just the fear of spam. I have been so ticked off that while representatives and Senators can vote on all sorts of things that affect people in areas not "theirs," we who so often get creamed are not able to write to anyone other than our own representative. For awhile, we only had 1 senator and our representative had announced he was retiring. Our other Senator was under investigation for ethics violations. That was tantamount to ZERO representation and because I live in NJ it happens way too often.

    So please do open up ALL of these emails.

    Many thanks for what you are doing.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Paul (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 9:42am

    Temporary solution but ultimately won't work

    This will only work so long as the Congressional web pages that host the 'contact us' forms don't have CAPTCHA images on them. Once they do - some may now, I'm too lazy to check - the software that Sunlight and EFF have created will no longer work. They'll either have to manually have humans fill in the forms, which they'll never be able to support, or they'll have to present the form to you, prefilled, with you doing submission on your own.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 10:29am

    Re: Temporary solution but ultimately won't work

    Most CAPTCHAs can be solved without human intervention these days.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    John85851 (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: In a related story...

    There are actually two points to address:

    1) Not displaying e-mail address to avoid spam? Um, these people are the law-makers: if they get too much spam, then pass a law with stricter penalties for sending spam.

    2) Although your technical information for creating spam filters is good, this is the same government that created, which was massively screwed up even well past it's launch date. Every programmer knows (or should know) how to stay on a deadline, but apparently, the site was launched as an early Beta version.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 1:17am

    Re: Re: Temporary solution but ultimately won't work

    Some can probably be solved easier by computers than humans!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    fgoodwin (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 9:19am

    Helpful first step

    But as others have noted, sometimes your own Congress person is not on the committee that considers law in the area you are interested in.

    For example, the House Subcommittee on Communications is a big one, and telecom policy issues are "my thing", but my Congressman is not on the committee, so who do I write to?

    I understand the purpose of the limitation but it severely restricts the usefulness of this effort.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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