Roll Call reported the Kerry
campaign linked credit reports and personal details to anyone
volunteering to assist the campaign.
Guess Whose Privacy the RNC and
DNC are Violating? Yours.
[March 4, 2004 evote.com]
The news is abound
with black helicopter stories: using cell phone chips to track Al Qaeda,
RFID tags embedded in new currency. We’re waiting on the announcement
that the government will soon track purchases of Cross pens. (Thanks to
terrorists adopting Tom Clancy’s poison pen plot.)
Make no mistake about it.
The eagerness and ability of the United States government to gather and
analyze information about individuals is expanding exponentially. And it
far exceeds any desire to prevent catastrophic terrorism, although this
is often used as a pretext or excuse for more government spying, more
government control, more limitation of the “self-evident” rights of man,
and the continual expansion of the size and payroll of government.
Libraries are reporting
to the government what people read. Credit card companies are sharing
info on where consumers shop. And this during a president’s
administration that is so secretive it is doing everything it can to
block the 9/11 investigation. Bush is very concerned about his own
privacy, but he sure wants to know all about you.
The White House isn’t
alone in his quest for personal information about both terrorists and
private citizens (Read: voters). Fueled partly by the extreme increases
in the speed of computers and the microscopically close presidential
election of 2000 (along with all the money and influence that changes
hands with a change of administration), to win the next election the
Democratic and Republican parties are now engaged in what is perhaps the
largest data-gathering and snooping party ever held. It is their private
party to look at us, but we are uninvited. Nor did we even grant them
permission to hold the party in the first place. And frankly my dear,
they don’t give a damn.
Getting To Know
The Democratic National Committee said last year it had electronic files
on 158 million Americans and counting, with 306 pieces of cross-indexed
information attached to every name. Officials appropriately call it “Demzilla".
Not to be outdone by its rival, the Republican National Committee said
it had 165 million names, called “Voter Vault.”
The good guys who run the
federal government keep track of your home address, phone number, email
address, ethnicity, religious affiliation, income, age, mortgage data,
magazine subscriptions, catalogues received, party identification,
charities favored, civic group involvement, whether you contribute to
campaigns or bother to vote, what you read and church attendance. Sexual
preference is also recorded, as well as gun ownership and views on
abortion, among others.
The DNC’s database
includes Census data, national consumer data which includes information
about marital status, children and home ownership. All this is gathered
to communicate more efficiently with voters through phone calls and
letters or whatever, and get you to vote for their “knight in shining
armor.” The databases help them know which door to knock on, or which
particular person in a family should be contacted and persuaded.
Knowing How You
Will Vote By What You Buy
Eddie Mahe, a Republican campaign consultant has said, "It's not about
the number of names but how much data you can put behind each name that
makes the difference.”
If for example a campaign
wanted to know every possible Irish-American male more than 50 years old
who drives an expensive auto with a litter of four children, they could
just pull it up. Or should they want to communicate with militarily
hawkish voters, for example, they could pull up all those who are likely
to vote and live in proximity to an army base who may vote pro
militarily because they might work at the army base. If they want fiscal
liberals, they could pull up those who subscribe to Mother Jones or the
Nation. (If they want smart ones, they could try and find out who reads
EVOTE.COM, but we’ll never tell.) It is all about deciphering the
political DNA of each voter. Figuring out which party they may support,
which issues are of concern to them, and who best to contact.
Both the RNC and DNC
refused to provide to EVOTE.COM a complete list of the kinds of data it
gathers on Americans. They like their own privacy, just not for the
people. They wish the privacy issue, but not the data-processing
technology, would just go away.
Years ago civil
libertarians pretty much only worried about the Central Intelligence
Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigations peeping into our windows,
but recently they have added the Department of Homeland Security and now
the political parties. The power is growing. The watchman is ten feet
director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty
program, has said, “We are really on the cusp of creating a surveillance
society where every action, every utterance—some might say every
thought—can be traced.”
No Problem Here
“I do not see an issue of privacy,” Tony Welch, DNC Spokesman told
EVOTE.COM. “I do not see anything new to this. We are using public
information in a more efficient way. We use ours for political messages.
It is important for us to talk to voters. It is important for us to get
voters to the polls for us.”
Indeed, candidates have
been doing at least some snooping for centuries so as to find, court and
eventually produce more voters on election day. In the 19th century
Abraham Lincoln century traveled to the local court house to view lists
of neighbors registered to vote.
Christine Iverson, a
spokesman for the RNC says they take “privacy very seriously.”
Republican campaign officials insist they only use the information for
party activities and do not allow its use for anything else.
“We do not break any
laws,” continues Iverson. “There is a lot being done to encourage more
people to vote. We intend to register three million new voters” by
November. (Of course, if the parties were truly interested in
registering large numbers of voters, they would advocate what former
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura proposes which is to allow same-day
registration and voting.)
But this effort to gather information on Americans so as to better
market their messages of propaganda goes beyond issues of privacy—it
could hinder the democratic process too. Freed from the restrictions
that law enforcement agencies typically must obey, with Voter Vault and
Demzilla the national parties are segmenting Americans into
psychographic databases according to particular behaviors, attitudes and
beliefs to more efficiently market their communications by phone, mail
or direct contact to seek funds and votes.
"There's a real problem
with this," reportedly said Chris Hoofnagle, deputy counsel at the
nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center. "With the data tools
available, one can send different platforms to different voters and it
would be difficult to detect."
And Beth Givens, director
of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy
organization based in San Diego, reportedly agreed. "Think about the
possibilities for abuse, for manipulation democracy suffers when you
tailor your message 12 different ways depending on who you want to reach
out to," she said. "The data that can be purchased is mind-boggling."
Now with the new science
of data mining, part of the field of applied mathematics, knowledge can
be obtained by analyzing hidden patterns in the data generated by
consumer records, credit reports and networked computers.
With just a few
keystrokes, they can quickly obtain information such as virtually all
voters in a particular state that have contributed $200 to a party, or
the names of individuals who have indicated an interest in gay or
lesbian issues. Officials can quickly go right down to the county or
precinct level and pull up any person to produce high-quality lists for
fund raising, testing and targeting.
With this technology
candidates will be more able to tailor their message to only those who
vote. Not necessarily senior citizens, for example, but senior citizens
who are likely to vote. Concern for big demographic groups such as
middle-class hockey moms will be lessened and instead there will be more
concern for what they like, what they do, or what they consume.
Candidates will see voters individually and not as a group. Television
ads that are seen by millions may become less important than smaller
Candidates will know more
about the voters than the voters know about candidates. And since many
messages from the candidates will be tailored for individuals and
somewhat hidden from the media and the public because it is a personal
letter, then who is to know what the politician actually believes? It is
a perversion of the political process unless a curious press keeps it in
Choosing To Not
Oscar H. Gandy Jr. of the Annenberg School for Communication and the
University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Electronic Privacy
Information Center in Washington, D.C. tells EVOTE.COM this “new
technology damages the democratic process. Democracy in the ideal
involves all of the people participating equally. This technology
focuses in on segments of the population. It differentiates among
people. It identifies those who make a financial or political
contribution. And since some people are bypassed by the efficient
voter-marketing, it leads to those particular individuals stepping-out
of the political process and failing to vote. People learn to
participate in the democratic process by being contacted. Since they
have been ignored, they then ignore the process and there is a snowball
Gandy has said the
decline in voter participation “is undoubtedly the result of a strategy
of focusing campaign resources on that segment of ‘likely voters’ that
are likely to vote the right way.”
“Orwellian society is
here,” said Gandy.
Beyond Voter Vault and
Demzilla, Gandy is also concerned that although there are restrictions
on what kinds of information the government can gather, there are few if
any restrictions on what kind of information it can purchase from
private companies. And in this post 9/11 environment with the Patriot
Act still on the books, privacy concerns have become more intense as we
struggle with the problem of sacrificing some liberties for the
apprehension of ideologically motivated terrorists.
And as technology
advances with computers and cameras in the future, our privacy may
significantly decrease. The watchmen must be watched.
[John Pike is a
veteran free-lance journalist based in Boston. His articles have
appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers and wire services, including
the Boston Globe, Reason and Insight Magazines. Because of his concern
for privacy, he is now a nether troglodyte living at a hidden far-away
location. Unfortunately he knows they are still watching him.]