The White House has abbreviated citizen signatures on its We the People petition website.The signatures, which used to include a signer’s first name and last initial, now just include first and last initials.
The signature blocks also include the signer’s location and the date of the signature.
The change comes less than two weeks after the White House raised the bar for petitions to receive an official response to 100,000 signatures in one month. The 16-month-old website was flooded with hundreds of thousands of petitions related to the shooting of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December and from citizens seeking to secede from the union after President Obama’s reelection in November.
There was no public announcement of the change and the White House declined to comment about it on the record.
The change will likely reduce the amount of monitoring and oversight White House staffers must perform on petitions. There’s no mechanism to ensure people who register with We the People are using their real names, so it would be possible for registrants, for instance, to enter profanity in the first name field.
The move will also inhibit some social science research using the site, such as a University of North Carolina study that divided signers of secession petitions by their presumed gender.
The White House has stated in the past that it retains all data it removes from the public We the People site in order to comply with the Federal Records Act. Previously, the White House has only removed petitions that failed to meet the threshold for an administration response and petitions that violated the site’s terms of service.