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[liberationtech] Interesting Discussion on the Law Election list on the new Obama iPhone app

Yosem Companys companys at
Tue Aug 7 21:35:49 PDT 2012


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Michael McDonald <mmcdon at>
Date: Tue, Aug 7, 2012 at 9:30 PM
Subject: Re: [EL] Changing Notions of Privacy
To: law-election at

This information has been freely available to the general public via ftp for
years in two states. It is freely available or near free to anyone upon
request in a few more states. There are a number of states that allow anyone
to look up registration records (do a search on "voter registration
lookup"). And there have been outside organizations that sought to publish
voter registration information on the web. Perhaps someone knows their
status as my casual search for those organizations was unsuccessful.

The campaigns have merged these data with their donor lists, but that is
something they do not want to publicly release since then other
organizations would ask their donors for money. Campaigns jealously guard
their donor lists.

Of course, the campaigns and state parties have had this information for
decades. Campaigns would give their volunteers walk and phone sheets. The
innovation is the delivery of these lists as an app, which makes a lot of
sense to me since it will help canvassers go to the correct home more
quickly and enter data. We get a little over-reactionary to new technologies
in thinking that they will change the world. I recently tried to explain to
a reporter that I did not expect Washington state's Facebook voter
registration app would have a large effect on voter turnout. For it to have
an effect, a person has to be interested in the election, has not registered
through one of the many currently available methods, and will use the
Facebook app. The same is true with this app. You have to be interested in
downloading it and then go out canvassing. (Anyone who has organized local
canvassing operations knows it is difficult to find volunteers to walk
door-to-door.) The threat is someone who did not have the initiative to go
to the campaign office in the past, and is a bad actor, will be motivated by
this new app to harass their neighbors. Heck, there is a low-tech way to do
this right now: look for yard signs.

I suspect that the Obama campaign will find out for themselves if making
this app publicly available instead of behind some firewall is worth it. The
main threat as I see is for Romney supporters to download the app and enter
fake data. Or, since this is probably Obama's persuasion target, if I were
the Romney campaign I'd thank the Obama campaign for the gift by sending
volunteers out to talk to these people to tell them how bad a person Obama

Dr. Michael P. McDonald
Associate Professor, George Mason University
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

                             Mailing address:
(o) 703-993-4191             George Mason University
(f) 703-993-1399             Dept. of Public and International Affairs
mmcdon at               4400 University Drive - 3F4     Fairfax, VA 22030-4444

-----Original Message-----
From: law-election-bounces at
[mailto:law-election-bounces at] On Behalf Of Scott
Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2012 10:20 PM
To: law-election at
Subject: [EL] Changing Notions of Privacy

Consider the following article written on the new Obama iPhone app. I think
it raises some of the issues that were raised by the plaintiffs in Doe v.
Reed, and something that Justice Alito spoke of in his concurrence.
(Disclosure: I represented the Plaintiffs while at Jim's firm).

I don't think it is going to take long for donor lists to be accessed in the
same way that the Obama campaign is now using primary participation, and
perhaps other publicly available data to identify party ID.

In fact, with respect to Prop. 8 in California, there was a google maps
"mash up" that laid donors over a map, allowing anyone to quickly locate
neighbors with an opposing viewpoint.

This app takes it to a new level, as you can now receive turn-by-turn
directions to any Democrats house based on your current location on your
smart phone.

As databases grow, and costs decrease, the amount of information that can be
appended is breathtaking.  I can tell you that I was shocked by the amount
of data that could be appended to our lists on the Cain campaign.

Disclosure has been sold on anti-corruption, political spectrum arguments
(tells us more about candidate or ballot measure).  The focus was on the
candidate, not individual donors. But the Supreme Court has now given its
blessing to using this data to contact donors, to have "uncomfortable"
conversations with them.

But as this article points out, most folks have no idea that their primary
participation or donation data can be used in this way.

Coupled with low disclosure levels, something I know even some folks on the
other side of this debate agree need to be raised, I think we are headed in
an alarming direction.

I think most folks are inherently private about their political beliefs.

I can't help but think that apps like this that will increase contact with
voters/donors will only serve to lessen participation in the political
process (think impact belief that juries are pulled from registered voters
has on registration).

If this happens, you drive the coveted small donors out (they don't want to
be hassled for a $50 donation). You are left with less speech, and a system
controlled by special interests.

If we are going to make any progress on this issue, I think we have to start
by recognizing there is a difference between the CEO of Chic-fil-A and the
waitress that gives $20 to Obama or some ballot committee. One made a choice
to make a very public statement on a very controversial issue. The other did
what she could to ensure a candidate or committee has the resources to
explain its position and let voters decide.

-Scott Bieniek
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