The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Election 2012

November 20, 2012

Democrats push to redeploy Obama’s voter database

(Continued)

Slaby, the campaign official, said the database might go to the Democratic National Committee or Obama’s presidential library committee once it gets established. Or, he said, it could go to some other new group created specifically to nurture and deploy the database most effectively. No existing group currently has the technical resources to properly manage the data that Obama assembled, he said.

Slaby added, “A lot of this will rest on him and what he wants his legacy and the legacy of this organization to mean.”

The database powered nearly everything about Obama’s campaign, from fundraising to the identification of likely supporters to motivating them to the polls on election day. This resulted in an operational edge that helped a candidate with a slim margin in the overall national vote to trounce Romney in the state-by-state electoral college contests.

Obama collected and used personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission have jurisdiction over how campaigns use such information, officials at those agencies say.

Privacy advocates say the opportunity for abuse — by Obama, Romney or any other politician’s campaign — is serious, as is the danger of hackers stealing the data. Voters who willingly gave such information to campaigns may not have understood that it would be passed onward to the party or to other candidates, even though disclosures on websites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Chris Soghoian, an ACLU analyst and former FTC technologist, said voters should worry that the interests of politicians and commercial data brokers have aligned, making legal restrictions of data collection less likely.

“They’re going to be loath to regulate those companies if they are relying on them to target voters,” he said.

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