This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Politics and Profiling
Oct 10 2000 12:00 AM PDT

Privacy legislation is a hot issue for candidates who are fond of gathering data on voters.


Polls show that people are concerned about losing control of their private data, especially online. In this political season the media are rehashing the privacy issue and probing the ways politicians do a bit of privacy violating of their own.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Norr surveyed the privacy surveys in his piece on pending privacy legislation now stalled in Sen. John McCain's Commerce Committee. Norr concludes that legislators seem more attuned to the data-gatherers than to the people. The legislation most likely to pass puts the burden on Web surfers to "opt out" of data collection at every site they visit. Norr sounds almost wistful when he quotes Sen. Ernest Hollings: "Any privacy legislation that doesn't include 'opt-in' is simply whistling Dixie."

The Associated Press asked the two major-party presidential candidates for a statement about privacy. Gov. Bush favors legislation protecting financial and medical data and criminalizing identity theft. Vice President Gore advocates industry self-regulation.

Whatever the candidates say on the record about personal privacy, both parties make plentiful use of information technology to reach voters with personalized pitches. Such political profiling is not new - it goes back at least to the earliest days of Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition. The Washington Post went page one with a 27-paragraph story by John Mintz and Robert O'Harrow Jr. that covered the Republican National Committee (whose data-collection activities are headed by that selfsame Ralph Reed), Hillary Clinton's campaign and the national Democrats. Mintz and O'Harrow quoted a Missouri Republican operative on the care the party takes not to wave political profiling in voters' faces: "You're not telling them you know they're pro-life," he said. "You're sending them a pro-life message." - Keith Dawson

Fig Leaf vs. Shield on Privacy
San Francisco Chronicle

Candidates on the Issues: Internet Privacy (AP)
San Francisco Chronicle

Software Digs Deep Into Lives of Voters
Washington Post