Privacy of E-Signatures Still Uncertain

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Supporters of government ethics reform will have to wait a week to find out if their electronic signatures will remain confidential. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups on Wednesday extended a temporary restraining order on dozens of county clerks keeping "e-signatures" on initiative petitions from the public.
     Utahns for Ethical Government wants to put on the November ballot an initiative clarifying lawmakers' conflicts of interest, limiting gifts from lobbyists, and capping political contributions at $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for political action committees per 2-year election cycle.
     The group gathered 77,000 ink signatures and at least 18,000 e-signatures on petitions. It needs 95,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. But it says some members fear retaliation if their names are released.
     Attorney Alan Smith, representing Utahns for Ethical Government, said placing the initiative on this year's ballot is no longer a possibility. He said the group is aiming now for the November 2012 general election.
     Smith argued Wednesday that public disclosure of the names could have a "chilling effect" on people's right to petition government.
     "It's not a right of privacy for its own sake; it's a right of speech, and privacy is an essential element there," Smith said.
     But Utah Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts said "there are consequences" to singing any petition.
     "The plaintiffs say they can participate in politics any way they want ... anonymously," Roberts said. But "You cannot sign a petition [as] Donald Duck." Roberts said some petitioners already have revealed their identities by being featured prominently on the group's Web site.
     Judge Waddoups asked the petitioners to give him more information about the anonymous singers. He said he could rule by May 5.
     In an unrelated but similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments on the privacy of petition signatures in Doe v. Reed. (See story at top left on today's Courthouse News page.)