Protecting Personal Information on Hunting and Fishing Licenses from Public Records Requests

Summary

More than half of the states in this nation do not protect the personal information that sportsmen and women are required to provide when purchasing hunting and fishing licenses. Some of these states actually require the information to be readily accessible to the public, while others mandate individuals to complete a request for public information application in order to access the data. In several cases, these requirements are built into state statutes, and in other instances, legal decisions have interpreted the information as “public” which has resulted in the information being subjected to public records requests, like any other data that was previously defined as “public.” Allowing this information to be publicly available may lead to harassment and other negative consequences that would jeopardize the safety and well-being of sportsmen and women, and it is recommended that states enact strong privacy protections to prevent this from occurring.

Introduction

When applying for a license – whether for fishing, hunting, trapping, firearms, or the concealed carry of a firearm – individuals must provide accurate private, biographical information. These individuals often believe that their information will only be seen by the receiving departments and/or agencies. However, many states require this information to be published and/or open to the public upon request, resulting in a substantial lack of privacy protection for sportsmen and women. Currently, less than half of the states adequately safeguard this sensitive information. In an age of technology and growing digital footprints, it is especially vital that this data stays secure and shielded from misuse.

Issue

Few states have laws protecting the private information of purchasers of hunting, fishing, firearm, and trapping licenses. This lack of security may compromise the safety and well-being of sportsmen and women, as it may lead to identity theft, fraud, and wrongful discrimination or harassment by anti-sportsmen extremists if they were to gain access to the information.

History

  • In March 2020, the First District Court ordered the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to release the names and addresses of successful big game applicants. Additionally, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ordered the department to release the email addresses of individuals who applied for hunting permits.
  • 20 states (AK, AZ, AR, DE, GA, ID, IL, IN, MD, MS, MO, MT, NV, NJ, NC, ND, OK, SC, UT, and WA) protect information provided by sportsmen and women for their hunting and fishing licenses from being subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Delaware (Title 5-5-503), Montana (2-6-1502), and West Virginia (HB 2709) protect information provided by trappers through respective state laws.
  • 8 states (AR, CA, GA, IL, LA, MA, MT, and WV) are legally bound by their state laws to protect the information of concealed carry license holders.
  • California (CA Public Records Act 6276.10), Illinois (5 ILCS & 7-116-207-7), Massachusetts (Ch. 121.10B), Mississippi (MCA 25-61-1), Montana (2-6-1502), and New Jersey (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1) have implemented laws that protect the identities of firearm license holders.
  • California has also implemented protections regarding the private information on licenses for fur trading and passenger fishing boats and has extended this security to the records of sturgeon egg processors.

Points of Interest

  • When applying for permits and licenses, sportsmen and women have a bona fide belief that their personal, identifiable information will be respected and protected.
  • A revealing of the personal and identifying information of sportsmen and women may lead to their being harassed, and/or the harassment of their family members.
  • Identity thieves need limited information to carry out malicious acts against unsuspecting parties. When an individual’s personal, biographical information is at the public’s fingertips, it is highly probably that subsequent harm that may be inflicted.
  • Sporting traditions are often misunderstood by the non-sporting public. Anti-sportsmen’s organizations have seized upon this lack of understanding and have attempted to portray all sportsmen and women as “trophy hunters” – a term that has been weaponized and is used derogatorily, with little of the public support that is well documented for hunting for meat. As compounding factors, these conditions lead to a situation where the release and misuse of private information may result in discrimination in the workplace, social groups, and throughout the community at large.

Moving Forward

State legislators are encouraged to review their current laws and regulations regarding the release of private information provided by sportsmen and women, and to work towards ensuring the necessary privacy safeguards are built into statute to protect this information from public records requests. The disclosure of this data is detrimental and potentially destructive towards sportsmen and women, and their families, who may face harassment from anti-sportsmen extremists. In turn, this has the potential to disincentive participation in some of America’s most time-honored traditions, which would negatively impact the conservation efforts of state fish and wildlife agencies that rely on sportsmen-generated funding through the American System of Conservation Funding to carry out their missions.

Contact:

For more information regarding this issue, please contact:

Joe Mullin, (202) 253-6883; jmullin@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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