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I am expanding a comment I made earlier this PM to a diary that charged the Obama campaign with "refusing to give up data to help other Democratic candidates". The diarist relied solely on POLITICO's breathless slant on the status of the Obama voter Database without considering the full ramifications of simply "handing over voter data to Democratic candidates".

The diarist should have known better than to rely on GOP-shilling POLITICO for information that they took from Craig Timberg's and Amy Gardner's Nov 20th Washington Post article without giving credit.

I am not a member of the Obama campaign team and am not privy to internal documents nor discussions. However, while the information currently made public (here, here, here, here, here, and here) about the new ground that the Obama for America campaign broke in this election in integrating voter profiles with behavioral data, and donor details using cutting edge technologies, has set beltway denizens abuzz about who gets access to the coveted database, the unique nature of and transferability of this data is a complex issue about privacy, ethics, campaign finance laws, as well as yet to be written election laws.

If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters’ magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.
In other words, the OFA database is not just a list of Dem voters, graphs of support intensity, and donor information. Integrated into the voter lists is a rich trove of personal data, plus behavioral information that proprietary OFA technology was able to mine. They succeeded in doing this partly as a result of unprecedented access that Obama voters willingly gave to the campaign. It is information that even consumer/commercial entities are forbidden by law from collecting. This is such sui generis data that the FEC itself has yet to make rules to regulate.

So considering the depth of intrusion into voters' private lives that the Obama campaign was able to achieve (probably without supporters being aware of the full implications of the access they were granting OFA), as well as the potential for abuse of both this souped up data and the technologies of collecting said data, don't we think there has to be a careful discussion about future uses of this data? More importantly don't we think voter CONSENT has to be thoroughly debated, especially since her on Dkos we rise up against the patriot Act, and corporate abuses of consumer privacy?

Let's go over the squiggley love-lines to examine the database brouhaha in some detail...

The issue is not simply about getting access to names on a list. The DNC has that list of voter names, and any Democratic candidate can gain access to that. What candidates like Terry McAuliffe (cited in the POLITICO story) want, for example, is the integrated data of names with donor information, behavioral profile lists etc. That means there are privacy issues as well as ethical questions to be resolved. Should this database be available to candidates in Democratic primaries to exploit for the parochial advantage?


All Democratic candidates have access to the party’s lists, which include voting and donation histories along with some consumer data. What Obama’s database adds are the more fine-grained analyses of what issues matter most to voters and how best to motivate them to donate, volunteer and vote.

    But there are serious logistical challenges to keeping updated a database as large and as detailed as Obama’s, which is why campaign officials are debating how to proceed even though there is wide agreement on the desire to help fellow Democrats and like-minded independent groups.

    The database powered nearly everything about Obama’s campaign, including fundraising, identifying likely supporters and urging them to vote. 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 was able to collect and use personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission has 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 campaigns such information may not have understood that it would be passed on to the party or other candidates, even though disclosures on Web sites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Since election night several articles have been published about the tech breakthrough (as indicated in the links above) that catalyzed voter registration, fundraising , and GOTV. Last week the GOP operatives who attended the Harvard Institute of Politics confab on election strategy collectively found their jaws on the floor. But the breakthrough is fraught with potential for abuse
Slaby said the campaign took great care with the data it collected and will ensure that whoever takes it over will protect it. Such efforts, though, take unusual resources, he said. Building the campaign’s technological systems took nearly two years and, at their peak, involved about 120 paid employees working with data provided by hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

    The most important information, officials said, was provided by voters themselves whenever they had contact with the campaign, in person or online, enriching the database with e-mail addresses, cellphone numbers and, crucially, information about what issues most concerned them.

More importantly there is also the question of when in the race a Dem candidate should have access, if at all, to that information? We've all known about fake Democratic candidates that ratfucking GOP field in some state and national races both at primary and general election levels in order to destroy Democrats' chances (esp in this era of heavy gerrymandering). What's to prevent a GOP candidate plant from signing on as a Dem in order to undermine Dem efforts both at congressional and presidential elections.

And what of the Democratic NY state senators who got (re)elected only to declare their intention to caucus with  Republicans, and the Governor's covert approval rubbing it in our faces.

One of the points Messina made in that article was to only make data available to  general election candidates.


 “We have been communicating to Obama for America all along about the importance of receiving that data, since Virginia has a 2013 election,” said Brian Moran, the outgoing chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.

    Although McAuliffe is the early Democratic front-runner, many in the party say individual candidates should receive access to such data only after winning the nomination — something that in Virginia can’t happen before the June primary, leaving only a few months before the November general election. The short time frame may make a full data set, should McAuliffe get it, even more valuable.

So instead of the diarist of that earlier jumping to conclusions or repeating what Politico said, there has to be serious consideration of the real logistical, privacy and ethical problems that make "handing over data" not a simple proposition.

I, like many other voters willingly gave the Obama campaign more information than I'd be willing to give any other candidate for any other races. It was MY investment in him and I'd feel very violated if that information was simply hawked to some other candidate. The list is an integrated one fully enriched with more personal data than many of us can fathom.

Caution is key.

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