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PRIVACY Forum Digest     Saturday, 14 October 2000     Volume 09 : Issue 21


            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
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        Election 2000, Privacy, and the Internet
           (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)

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     Quote for the day:

        "When you question, it slows you down."

                -- Francis (Richard Jordan)
                   "Logan's Run" (MGM; 1976)


Date:    Sat, 14 Oct 2000 09:03 PDT
From: (Lauren Weinstein; PRIVACY Forum Moderator)
Subject: Election 2000, Privacy, and the Internet

Greetings.  As we enter the home stretch of the current U.S. election cycle,
a variety of crucial issues loom large, many of which could be greatly
affected by the outcome of the Presidential and Congressional elections.

Unlike the dreadfully sorry excuse for a representative process demonstrated
by the recently completed ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers) "election" procedure, many millions of persons will be voting in
the U.S. national elections on Nov. 7.  (For more thoughts on the ICANN
process, please see the "PFIR Statement on Internet Policies, Regulations,
and Control" at:

In many cases, the serious issues underlying the upcoming Congressional and
Presidential voting have been obscured or distorted by rhetoric from all
sides, much of it purposeful and targeted, sometimes in precise,
privacy-invasive manners.

There are certainly many issues beyond the Internet and privacy to be
considered.  The dramatic events in the Middle East of the last few days
seem to assure that international affairs will take a much greater role on
the election stage than is typical for United States elections.  More
substantive attention to the international environment by national political
candidates is long overdue, though I'll admit to not being inspired by most
of the current candidate crop.  It is worrisome to say the least when, as in
some current cases, expectations are set so low that a Middle School level
recitation of international names, pronounced without overt stumbling, is
categorized by some commentators as acting in a "Presidential" manner.  
Pretty scary stuff...

This year, a variety of privacy-related issues have played significant roles
in the campaigns for both Congress and the Presidency, beyond the fact that
the next President is likely to appoint Supreme Court Justices who could
dramatically affect national privacy policies for many years to come.
Unfortunately, these matters are all such a mixed bag that it is basically
impossible to make a rational choice between the two major candidates using
these issues as a focus.  (I refer at this time only to the "two major
candidates" with due apologies to those persons who support candidates in
other parties.  In all honesty, as a practical matter, I do not consider the
other candidates' current minimal impact on the election process to be
sufficient grounds to equate them with either the Democratic or Republican
candidates in terms of potential election outcomes.  Perhaps this will
change in the future.)

The Internet and privacy issues have become hot-button political topics in a
variety of quarters.  A number of proposals are pending in Congress that
would either make matters better, or worse, depending upon your point of
view.  Bills that address issues of e-mail spam (please see for more on this), Social Security
Numbers, banking privacy and disclosures, spyware -- software that "leaks"
data back to third parties, and more, are in various legislative stages.
They are all important, but rarely are discussed within the political arena.
Privacy issues make for strange bedfellows indeed, with all manner of rather
bizarre cross-party coalitions responsible for or supporting many of these
privacy-related proposals.

On the other hand, the Internet has become a most convenient political
scapegoat for any number of societies' ills, a conduit for privacy-invasive
behavior by political parties, and a dandy target for political distortions
in the tradition of old-style politics supreme.  Perhaps the most famous
recent political distortion in this regard is the oft-quoted line about
Al Gore claiming that he invented the Internet.  He of course never made that
statement.  He did say that he was proud of the initiative he had taken in
the creation of the Internet, a statement that many Internet old-timers have
validated.  The publicly-accessible Internet as we know it today was
largely a political creation, the child of the Defense Department ARPANET
and directly related to Congressional initiatives in which Al Gore had a
major role.  He never claimed the inventing of Internet technology.  Be that
as it may, some who would prefer to draw attention away from actual records
find it convenient to distort his statements.  Politics as usual -- and both
parties play the game.

Nor does either party seem to have much to be proud of when it comes to the
the use of personal data in attempts manipulate voters, especially this
year.  Last December, I discussed the operations of Aristotle Publishing 
(in the PRIVACY Forum issue at:
Firms like Aristotle match up voter registration records with personal data
provided at Web sites, and in some cases with a variety of other personal but
public record data (where you live, how much your house is worth, what sort
of neighborhood you live in, what kind of car you drive, etc.) to create
personalized pitches on behalf of their political clients.  Outside of the
fact that many people find this sort of dossier creation extremely offensive
and intrusive, it also results in the real positions of the parties becoming
increasingly foggy, as they attempt to present themselves as precisely what
they think an individual voter would want to see, either through phone
calls, physical mail, or increasingly via e-mail.  It's easy for any
underlying truths to be effectively buried by such technologies, which both
parties are apparently relying upon to ever-increasing degrees.

As I mentioned, even as the parties use these technologies to their
advantage, and candidates promote the Internet as an educational wonder,
they also treat the Internet as a convenient scapegoat to flog for all
manner of perceived societal problems which have existed since long before
the Internet's appearance.  During a brief exchange concerning gun control in
the second Presidential Debate, candidate George W. Bush appeared to
directly equate use of the Internet with causing children to commit gun
crimes.  A convenient argument, but seemingly much more pandering than
addressing reality. 

Unfortunately, both political parties seem to be charter members of the
Internet blame game.  Congress on a bipartisan basis keeps pushing for, and
both Presidential candidates have apparently endorsed, various forms of
privacy-invasive Internet rating, content control, and filtering programs,
even in the face of most software filters' abysmally repressive and
inaccurate performance (  It appears
to be "good politics" to blame the Internet for problems with our youths,
just as comic books, rock music, and long (male) hair were routinely
condemned years ago.  Real evidence is not required -- just repeat the party
lines often enough and perhaps the people will believe them to be true.

As bad as all this looks, it could be worse.  By the time of the next
Presidential election four years from now, we're likely to see the issue of
Internet Voting in local, state, and national elections take center stage.
As discussed in, this concept opens up
a nightmarish Pandora's Box of privacy, security, reliability, accuracy, and
related problems, most of which are not subject to obvious or simple
solutions.  Yet, the pressure to increase voting turnout by letting people
vote at home from their PCs will be very strong indeed, and if history is
any guide, the massive risks inherent in such online voting schemes will be
largely ignored amidst rosy forecasts by such systems' promoters and their
political allies.  If this actually transpires, we're likely to all be the

Gee, we haven't even gotten past this election yet, and already Lauren is
offering worries for next time -- he's a regular ray of sunshine!  Well,
these issues will all be dealt with, one way or another, in due course.  
No need to panic quite yet.  For now, take a deep breath, consider your
options carefully, and for those of you eligible to do so, please be sure to
vote.  For all the rhetoric and spin, political mayhem and manipulation,
your vote still counts, and voting is still exceptionally important to our
future.  After all, as the famous political adviser "Criswell" suggested in
the film "Plan 9 From Outer Space" -- you'll be living in the future for the
rest of your life!  

Take care.  Be seeing you.

Lauren Weinstein or or
Co-Founder, PFIR: People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy


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