Do Voters Deserve Privacy From Politicians and Candidates?

Shaun Dakin, CEO and Founder of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, is one of the lead organizers for PrivacyCampDC.

Do Voters deserve privacy protection during campaigns?  Or, does the first amendment, protecting freedom of speech, have priority?

For many of us the invasion of privacy by candidates during elections is the price to bear for Democracy.   Robocalls, email spam, direct mail, TV and Radio ads, and door to door canvassing are all meant to be “dealt with” by voters.   “Just unplug the phone”, candidates and political consultants tell me.

But what if you lived in a battleground state during a Presidential election cycle?  (PA, OH, FL, NC and others)

If you did, you could be receiving up to 15 robo calls a day.   15 robo calls a day.  Really.

The National Political Do Not Contact Registry receives 100’s of emails a week from voters sick and tired of having their privacy invaded by politicians and candidates.

Sr. Citizens write to me of living in fear of a health emergency occurring and their phone line being tied up by the 10 – 15 robo calls they receive each day during the election season.   Stay at home Mothers write with stories of babies being woken up from naps and, most disturbingly, night shift workers write of worry of losing their job due to a lack of sleep because of robo calls.

In fact, that is what I testified to when I was asked by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) to testify in 2008 with regards to her Robocall Privacy Act (S 2007).

You don’t have to believe me, however, as PEW has conducted some significant research on robo calls and their impact on the voter.  According to PEW 64% of voters received robo calls in 2006.  In 2007 84% of Iowa voters received robo calls during the caucuses.

I believe that there should be a Voter Privacy Bill of Rights (I wrote about it in the Washington Post in an op-ed I had published in September, 2008).

What is a Voter Privacy Bill of Rights?  Simple.  Voters should have the right to opt-out of unwanted political communications.  Starting with Robocalls.   Not a ban, simply the ability to opt-out of political robocalls.

Voters should have the right to opt-out of unwanted:

  • Robocalls
  • Volunteer calls
  • Door to door canvassing
  • Internet data mining or micro targeting
  • Email
  • Direct Mail
  • Etc…

Pretty simple request, I would think.

But wait.  Don’t politicians have the right (First Amendment) to political speech that surpasses all voter’s rights to privacy?   Well, not quite.  There is a right to privacy that citizens have.   At this time there has been no case law decided on the battle between the First amendment rights of politicians and the Privacy rights of voters.

There should be.

The first step?  The Robocall Privacy Act (S. 1077) introduced by Sen. Feinstein.   Congratulate her.

Shaun Dakin is the CEO and Founder of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry ( the nation’s only non-partisan non-profit organization working to rid the nation of Political Robocalls, which are currently exempt from the Do Not Call registry. During the election Mr. Dakin appeared on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR and XM Radio numerous times as the nation’s only spokesperson for the privacy rights of all voters. The NPDNC Registry has over 85,000 members.

Mr. Dakin has also testified in the US Senate on behalf of Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and the Robocall Privacy Act.    During the election he worked with @BigEasy to develop a Twitter / Google Map Mashup to display robocalls across the nation. The National Political Do Not Contact Registry won the Mashable Open Web Award for best Non-Profit. He Twitters about this issue at @EndTheRobocalls and Twitters about everything else at @IsCool. Mr. Dakin lives in Falls Church, VA with his wife and son.


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About Privacy Camp

PrivacyCamp is an multi-city unconference about privacy focusing on government policy and social networking.


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