First bill directly responding to Cambridge Analytica’s use of private Facebook data to psychologically manipulate U.S. voters
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Voter Privacy Act, a bill that would give voters control over how their personal information is used by political candidates and campaigns in federal elections. There is currently no federal law regulating the collection and use of voter data by political organizations.
“Political candidates and campaigns shouldn’t be able to use private data to manipulate and mislead voters. This bill would help put an end to such actions,” Senator Feinstein said. “Today, campaigns are legally able to conduct sophisticated online surveillance of everyone in our country in order to influence individuals based on their unique psychological characteristics. This targeted manipulation not only undermines our democracy, it’s a threat to basic individual freedom.”
During the 2016 election, the political consulting company Cambridge Analytica misused sensitive personal information from 87 million Facebook users in order to influence voters to support Donald Trump’s campaign.
Campaigns in the United States are increasingly adopting practices similar to those used by Cambridge Analytica. One report states that a major political party now possesses detailed voter files with thousands of data points on more than 200 million Americans. The report further states that “voter data may be the largest concentration of unregulated data in the U.S. today.”
Most voters are unaware that their information is being secretly collected and used to influence their opinions and behavior.
What the bill would do
This bill would give voters five basic rights regarding their personal information:
- Right of access. Voters would be permitted to review any of their own personal information collected by a campaign, candidate or political organization.
- Right of notice. Any campaign that receives an individual’s personal information from a data broker (including consumer purchasing history, geolocation, medical information, credit reports, web browsing data and other information) would be required to notify those individuals that their data was obtained.
- Right of deletion. Voters would be permitted to instruct a campaign, candidate or political organization to delete their personal information.
- Right to prohibit transfer. Voters would be permitted to instruct a campaign, candidate or political organization not to sell their data to a third party.
- Right to prohibit targeting. Voters would be permitted to instruct websites like Google and Facebook not to use their data profiles to help political groups target them with psychologically engineered political ads.
These requirements would not apply to information obtained from publically available state and local voter registration databases, which include name, address and party affiliation. Campaigns would maintain access to sufficient data in order to communicate with voters. The bill’s requirements also would not apply to anonymous polling information.
The Voter Privacy Act in one of several bills Senator Feinstein has introduced in an effort to respond to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Other bills include the Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act, the Bots Disclosure and Accountability Act and the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act.