There was a recent controversy on an El Paso historical Facebook page and an El Paso website over the misappropriation of a picture of Chicos Tacos. The picture, apparently taken from the website and posted on the Facebook page resulted in the temporary banning of an individual. Looking at the back-and-forth comments it soon became apparent the many readers do not understand the concept of intellectual property. In its most basic format, intellectual property can be a picture, a groups of words or even a list of email addresses that have a value and a cost to someone. Intellectual property is like the piece of candy that someone might shoplift at the corner store because it only costs pennies – it is still stealing.
In the case of city property, any property the city owns has very specific restrictions on how it can be used. There are both civil charges, remedies under the ethics ordinance and even criminal penalties for misusing the city’s property. Among the property the city owns is intellectual property, in this case it is email addresses the city gathers from constituents that interact with the city, either by asking questions or receiving information. Anytime you submit an email address to an official city-provided service, your email address becomes intellectual property of the city. Like any other property, for example a city-owned computer, it cannot be used for political or personal profit.
I have always suspected that politicos were misusing government email address databases for political and personal gain but it has always been difficult to prove. That is until Peter Svarzbein inexplicably added me to his personal newsletter.
On August 17, 2016, I received an email titled; “Conversos Y Tacos Experience” from Peter Svarzbein. As many of you know, Svarzbein is in the creative field, a photographer I believe, and presumably he makes a living off of his craft. The email that I received discusses a food/cultural project at the B’nai Zion Synagogue that was scheduled for August 20.
I know that this email was not an official email from Peter Svarzbein acting in the official capacity as a city representative. It makes no reference to Svarzbein’s office and the included biography only lists Svarzbein’s personal experiences. By all standards of measure, the email is not official city business.
Two days later, I received Peter Svarzbein’s city newsletter. Although I never signed for his official newsletter, or his personal one for that matter, my email address somehow ended up on both newsletters.
The two emails gave me the opportunity to analyze the header details. All email sent have information attached to them in what is called the “header” part of the transmission. The header information provides details such as what application was used to create the email how it was transmitted and from what IP address it originated from. Without boring you with the details, the header information gave me enough information to make two determinations.
The first is that Peter Svarzbein uses the MailChimp service to manage his official city newsletter and his personal one. The second is that Peter Svarzbein is using the city’s email address database for personal use.
Let me break it down for you.
The first and most important question that deserves an answer is whether Peter Svarzbein is using the MailChimp service that is paid for by City resources for his personal gain. Looking at the header information it appears that the two email newsletters were sent from two different machines; one from a city owned computer and Internet access and the other from what I assume to be a personal computer and Internet connection. No problem so far.
Except that if you look closely at the header information, specifically the X-MC-User for both emails you will note that both used the same account (user) to create the newsletter and send it out.
We can also examine the List-ID tag that is generated by the MailChimp system. It tells us that the same list was used to create both emails.
According to the MailChimp service; “Each MailChimp list has a unique List ID that integrations, plugins, and widgets may require to connect and transfer subscriber data. The List ID is generated by our system when the list is created and cannot be changed. There are two ways to find the List ID for a MailChimp list.”
As you can see, the List-ID tag tells us that the same paid-for service was used to create the two newsletters.
That leads to ask the question, who is paying for the MailChimp service? Is it paid for by the City, or by Peter Svarzbein? If the list contains less than 2,000 email addresses, which is unlikely for the City, then it is free to use. However, if it has more than 2,000 names the monthly fee varies from $20 to over $500 a month depending on how many individual email addresses are in the account.
However, even if Svarzbein’s list is less than 2,000, unlikely, or if he pays for it out of his own pocket it still leaves the matter of intellectual property.
Constituents send email to Svarzbein’s office not to be added to his personal newsletter but to communicate official issues with their representative.
The List-ID tag clearly shows that Peter Svarzbein is using a City email database to send out his personal and politically, or business related messages.
Both scenarios are misuse of City-owned resources for personal gain.