Privacy Ref Blog

Political Campaigns Need Privacy Policies and Training

When I made the transition from working in American Politics to learning about Privacy, the first tidbit of information I was given was that there was a difference in terminology between the American  and the European practice. In America, we use the term Privacy but in Europe they use the term Data Protection. As I continued my journey in “Privacy” and I considered how my new-found training would have impacted my career in politics, I have come to feel that the term data protection is more applicable to the needs of political campaigns. If I were to review the numerous political campaigns that I have managed, marketed, and organized, data protection has always been woefully inadequate throughout them all.

Personal information collected by campaigns are at risk

Consider the average voter registration drive and the well-intentioned volunteers that tirelessly attempt to gather highly personal information on perfect strangers. Ask yourself about how that data is managed, secured and delivered to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Ask yourself about the lack of personnel screening as campaigns typically rely on volunteers and tragically underpaid staff.

Now consider how much personal information flies around a political campaign office with little more than an honor code preventing that information from being shared or lost. One of the most common phenomena in political campaigns is the disappearance of clip boards filled with registration forms that host phone numbers, addresses, and at times more personal information.

Every campaign office has experienced overwhelming terror as one or more exhausted staffers realizes that a few hundred forms have gone missing. Their minds race wondering if that “sketchy” volunteer might have stolen them, or were they left at the staging sight, or are they simply under the cushion of the donated couch that serves as the only valuable piece of furniture in a campaign office.

So is information the campaigns access

The reality is that political campaigners’ access detailed databases with personal information on voters. At times these databases are filled with personal notes about perennial voters. I have seen “notes” in databases describing the health condition of voters or describing volunteers as unavailable due to a recent surgery. There is nothing in the training that many campaigns receive or in practice that guards this information from duplication or theft.

As phone sheets are passed around during “phone banks” nothing prevents anyone from copying this information, especially on campaigns that have low budgets and require volunteers to use their own phones (which will retain the call information). Campaigns almost never prepare their staff with phishing exercises. Campaigns do little or nothing that effectively protects data.

North Carolina as an example

North Carolina residents are reeling as they realize that low paid – temporary staff workers were sent to the homes of absentee voters to collect their ballots. Those workers unknowingly participated in a voter fraud scheme. Residents happily handed their ballots over and no one can affirm that those ballots ever reached the appropriate authorities nor is it likely that they were ever counted.

North Carolina’s only remedy (at the time I am writing this) is to schedule a new election. As numerous high-profile campaigns (O’Rourke, and McCaskill for example) from the most recent 2018 cycle were penetrated by operatives with recording devices, it is about time that the political campaigning world recognize that it is in desperate need of data management training or as we say in America, Privacy.

Privacy Ref provides consulting and assessment services to build and improve organizational privacy programs. For more information call Privacy Ref at (888) 470-1528 or email us at info@privacyref.com

Posted on December 19, 2018 by Andre Samuels


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