D.C. Madam Spawns Citizen-Generated Online Database


While much of D.C. is all atwitter about the D.C. Madam scandal and the subsequent revelations about Sen. David Vitter's appetite for prostitutes, we've been pretty silent here at Sunlight about the whole thing. That's because scandals about the personal failings of someone's private life are of no consequence to us. The Mark Foley scandal was an exception because that highlighted the institutional failings, and possible rule-breaking, of the congressional leadership at the time. Duke Cunningham's prostitutes were also an exception because they were used as bribes for earmarks. The Hill, however, reported today on an angle of the D.C. Madam case that is of interest to Sunlight. After Deborah Jean Palfrey, the D.C. Madam, posted her phone list on her personal Web site four Boston-based Brandeis alumni used that data to create a searchable database of all the phone numbers used to call Palfrey and secure her "services".

The Web site, dcphonelist.com, allows users to type in phone numbers to see if they are included in Palfrey's list. The creators of the site, known as the "D.C. Phone Listers" or the "Brandeis Boys," decided to make the site to enable local reporters and citizen journalists to have easier access to the information. One "Phone Lister," Yoni, told The Hill, “What this does is let someone in Kansas who has the right phone numbers search the data and see for himself". This is exactly the principle that Sunlight supports in disseminating information online so that interested parties can engage political information without the barriers of distance and time.

Much to our delight the "Phone Listers" included the middle name of our namesake Judge Louis Brandeis, "Dembitz," in the e-mail address for the Web site.

This effort by four tech-savvy citizens enables other people to engage in a D.C. scandal if they so choose. So, if you're interested in the D.C. Madam case take a second to check out dcphonelist.com. Pull up some old Capitol Hill numbers from the late-90s and see which members of Congress we're dipping their hand in the cookie jar. Thanks to four citizens and the Internet you can uncover some dirt too.