Did the Obama Campaign Run Roughshod Over Voter Privacy?

Database could undercut administration initiatives

The Obama presidential campaign displayed a masterful use of databases to assemble the most sophisticated voter profiles ever used in any election. But privacy advocates believe the campaign's "do as I say, not as I do" approach will undercut proposed consumer privacy initiatives.

Since 2008, the Obama campaign has assembled voter profiles using both online and offline databases, combined with information provided by donors and voters. According to a Washington Post report, the Obama campaign is considering leveraging those lists to assist the president's legislative agenda or other Democrats.

That's got privacy advocates more than a little alarmed that the administration is less than genuine about its recommendations for a consumer privacy bill of rights or tighter data collection regulations for data brokers, as suggested by reports from both the Commerce Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

"The very same information they want regulated in the commercial sphere, they are using in the political sphere," said leading privacy advocate Jeff Chester, the executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy. "They are being hypocritical."

While businesses are required to give consumers the choice to opt-out of data sharing, the Obama campaign is planning to share its lists without giving voters a choice.

"That's not what voters expected," said Chester, who is also worried about Super PAC voter profiles and lists.

The actions of the campaign could damage the administration's credibility when it comes to protecting the data privacy of consumers. So far, no one seems to be listening. "I've tried to raise this with politicians but it's been slow going," Chester said.