Politics

Opinion: If we’re going to regulate data, start with politicians


There is a lot of talk in Washington these days about finally introducing regulations to ensure adequate protection of personal data in the United States. A hearing at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation took place Sept. 26 with a cast of the “usual suspects” providing testimony: AT&T, Amazon, Google, Twitter, etc.

Yet, the senators asking the questions run political campaigns that handle as much data, if not more, than some of the witnesses they call to testify but are, in many ways, less accountable.

Politics in the United States is big business and, like everything else these days, a data-driven business. The Washington Post estimated that, for the 2016 presidential campaign alone, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined raised more than $2 billion with significant additional amounts being raised and spent by the other presidential candidates.

A significant portion of the money raised by political parties and campaigns these days is spent on buying, combining and analyzing data. As a general rule, at least under California law, voter registration data (name, address, phone, age, party affiliation) is confidential and shall not “be used for any personal, private, or commercial purpose,” but candidates and committees for or against any initiative or referendum do have access to such data (Section 2194 of the California Election Code).

Political parties and their consultants routinely acquire voter registration databases from the states and merge them with data from data brokers, the U.S. census, and elsewhere, to create massive databases that score every American based on their individual beliefs on topics such as immigration, hunting, abortion rights, and government spending.

We do not know much about what politicians and their consultants do with our data, and there are little meaningful restrictions that apply to them under the law. The current legal framework is an inefficient patchwork of privacy laws that, in most cases, does not even apply to candidates, political campaigns, or political parties.

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We do know politicians spend money on consultants that help them decide who to send what campaign ads. Gerrymandering for political gain is also a profitable data-driven game. But what else is done with political data is anybody’s guess, and politicians do not seem to be eager to enlighten us on the subject.

One thing we do know. Politicians do not seem to be spending much money protecting our data. Despite multiple hacking threats, including foreign interference, McClatchyDC reported …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

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