Having proudly served in our nation’s military, I’ve always been compelled to exercise my right to vote. While I bear the scars of war and personal sacrifice, I am not a hero because I’m still around to talk about it. I don’t subscribe to hero worship. But if I did, once close brothers who aren’t around to talk about it would be the true heroes. In their honor, I pledged to vote each and every election. A pledge I may very well regret and possibly even rescind.
The Wake Up
It was November, 2008. Assured by myriad signs decorating the polling hall that my vote was completely confidential and that my personal information would be accepted, processed and stored in complete secrecy and confidence – I stood inside a partitioned booth and cast my votes.
As I filled in ballot balloons, an HBO documentary film by Russell Michaels, Simon Ardizzone, and Robert Carrillo Cohen titled ‘Hacking Democracy’ came to mind. Hacking Democracy was based on independent grassroots research which concluded that electronic voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems (a subsidiary of Diebold, Incorporated) could be hacked and their results altered. They also suggested that hacks on these machines may have been contracted for by the Bush campaign in Ohio and Florida to win the 2004 presidential election.
Factual or not, Diebold Election Systems changed it’s name to Premier Election Solutions soon after that fiasco, and then sold itself out to Election Systems & Software located in Plano, TX for a measly $5Million in September 2009. The $5M fire sale acquisition came only 18 months after Diebold rejected a March 2008 buyout bid for Diebold Election Systems by United Technologies Corporation for $2.63 billion; sending up a big red collusion flag to the U.S. Justice Department.
… oops …
Now the Feds are getting in the act with 9 state attorneys general proposing that Election Systems & Software divest its Premier Election Solutions intellectual property, tools, assets and inventory – ALL OF IT – to a vendor approved by the Justice Department. The fear is that ES&S’s monopoly stifles competition.
Competition? Why isn’t there a line forming? Perhaps the Justice Department’s preferred vendor is the competition? If so, who are they and are their shares available on E*Trade?
It’s A Trap!
Anyway, I am here to explain why my vote will hereafter be cast with zero confidence in our country’s right to privacy system. Voting machine hacks… firewall, modem, router and server hacks… computer hacks… ATM terminal hacks… fraudulent phishing emails… trojan keyloggers… We live in a world where identity theft is not only a legitimate threat to our livelihoods, but it’s also big business – to the tune of $47.6 billion in 2009 according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
Yet like many Americans, my direct concerns about identity theft dissipated after the 2008 elections concluded and the grind of real life set in. Out of site out of mind right?
That was until yesterday, when a young gentleman representing the political party I voted for in the presidential election rang my doorbell. Carrying a laptop disguised as a 1″ thick clipboard, he asked if the party could count on my support in the upcoming elections. He then rattled off how I voted on issues in the previous election, and informed me of how current party candidates planned to earn my support on those issues. Then he asked to confirm my household income, and…
Stop. Right. There.
Who the hell is this person? And why does someone I’ve never met possess all this private information about ME? I confirmed who he was, a hard working representative of the political party I voted for in the previous presidential election who’s merely trying to hold down a legitimate tax-paying job. Someday I’ll research where his employer’s revenues come from. Until then, I just wanna know how and why this guy had so much dirt on me.
HOW? Data Mining & Targeted Prospecting
Companies such as Acxiom, Claritas and First Data all sell personal information marketed as targeted demographics solutions to whoever is willing to pay for it. Ever wondered how the companies who publish the “reduce your debt” kits mailed in those official looking “Important Information: Do Not Discard” windowed security envelopes know exactly how much you can save by consolidating your debt with them?
It turns out our privacy isn’t so private, especially with regard to voter registration. Our personal voting trends as well as all of our “demographic” information are compiled and resold. In the political marketing arena, the 600lb gorilla responsible for our personal information warehousing and resale is a company called Aristotle. “Recognized as the pioneer in political technology” (just ask them) their main office is conveniently located right on Capitol Hill.
I looked up Political Technology. There’s no official definition or Thesaurus entry, so Aristotle’s marketing guys did a nice job of inventing the term. Essentially, political technology is the “science” of reselling personal information disguised as targeted demographics information to political campaigns. According to Aristotle themselves “every occupant of the White House — Democrat and Republican — for more than 25 years, has been an Aristotle customer, as are most U.S. Senators, most members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democratic and Republican state party organizations.”
While I’m not “insider” enough to prove it, here’s guessing that political candidates can garner big-dollar corporate campaign sponsorships using scalable voter demographics packaged as compensatory carrots. The more campaign contributions a sponsor might be willing to “donate” the more volumous, specific or targeted the information they might receive in return.
WHY? An Abuse of Privilege
We all know that information is power. But in this case, it translates DIRECTLY into real, tangible power. Power that shapes our laws and how they are enforced. Power that influences everything from Wall Street to the healthcare system to Social Security. All three of these segments are currently failing miserably and killing a once-thriving economy. I wish to submit our promiscuous political system for consideration as a big reason why.
One could surmise that our own government not only sanctions – but is a major client of – personal information hackers. Lawmakers are allowing its constituents’ personal information to be pimped out for their political gain, and then letting door-to-door salestypes openly walk the public streets with it. Protection of personal privacy is now so far out of reach for even the most technically aware American citizen that there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it without risking civil war.
As a decorated veteran who sacrificed much in defense of our people’s right to be heard at the polls, I may have to rethink my level of participation in government-sponsored programs. That includes elections.
Big Brother Inc. by James Verini, Published December 13, 2007 for Vanity Fair
The Constitution of the United States
Freedom of Information, Privacy Act & Web Inventories
THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 – 5 U.S.C. § 552a (As Amended)
Federal Election Commission; Privacy Act of 1974; Systems of Records; Notice
Hacking Democracy, The documentary by Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Robert Carrillo Cohen
Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Facts Thank you to Stan for contributing this link.
From THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974, As Amended
§ 552a. Records maintained on individuals
(7) the term “routine use” means, with respect to the disclosure of a record, the use of such record for a purpose which is compatible with the purpose for which it was collected;
To quote crewman Guy Fleegman, “We’re so screwed…”