It is common knowledge that corporations collect data on citizens by placing ‘cookies’ on their Internet surfing devices in order to more effectively market their products. But the practice was never intended to apply to government.
New information confirms the suspicions of conservatives that although government is not collecting data on citizens through cookies, or at least not to our knowledge, it is definitely doing so through the use of social networking sites such as Facebook.
The Obama reelection team in particular has launched a high tech strategy designed to be the most comprehensive digital campaign tactic in history.
According to two articles published in the U.K. in The Guardian, the Obama team collaborates with Facebook to collect data on citizens which then is used to target political campaign ads on the Internet.
According to the Guardian,
Barack Obama’s re-election team are building a vast digital data operation that for the first time combines a unified database on millions of Americans with the power of Facebook to target individual voters to a degree never achieved before.
Digital analysts predict this will be the first election cycle in which Facebook could become a dominant political force. The social media giant has grown exponentially since the last presidential election, rendering it for the first time a major campaigning tool that has the potential to transform friendship into a political weapon.
In a separate article, the Guardian reports that for the past nine months a “crack team” of some of America’s top data wonks has occupied an entire floor of the Prudential building in Chicago for the purpose of laying the groundwork to build and implement a digital campaign from the ground up.
The information collected by the Obama team will then be made available to state and local Democratic officials in a massive new data sharing cabal that will allow every level of the Democratic Party to conduct its own high tech campaign.
But as observed in a disturbing investigation conducted by researcher Denise Simon, such data gathering has an ominous dark side.
Simon questions the Constitutionality of campaigns, particularly that of an incumbent President, engaging in such overt and covert data collection activity. And with the question of Constitutionality comes the question of legality.
Is this practice legal?
Apparently it is, given that the Obama team has the full knowledge and cooperation of Facebook’s tycoons who are making it possible for such data to be collected. But the issue of informed consent is key. Do most Facebook users know that by using the site they are essentially signing away their privacy and that the Obama Administration has free reign to collect all the data it wants on them?
Simon conducted an experiment of her own during which she used her Facebook account to utilize certain words and phrases in her FB posts. On the day of her experiment, merely using the word ‘America’ would automatically place her Facebook post on the White House main page under its ‘friends’ section, even if the user had never marked the White House as a Facebook ‘friend.’
Curiously, Simon also discovered that if one mentions in a Facebook post ‘DHS,’ the Department of Homeland Security, one’s post automatically shows up on the DHS Facebook main page.
In a further development, the day after Simon’s experiment was conducted, all such automatic posts to the White House Facebook page and the DHS page had been scrubbed. It is unknown if this was a temporary defensive measure intended to get rid of the evidence or if Simon succeeded in scaring Facebook and the White House into rethinking their policy.
But the central question in all of this is one of legality, particularly when it comes to money. Are the taxpayers on the hook for this mammoth Obama campaign initiative?
They could be for at least part of it, which would be a violation of campaign finance laws.
As reported Sunday, the Obama Administration contracted with General Dynamics to collect data on millions of Americans. The price tag to the taxpayer was 11.4 million dollars.
If the Obama campaign has used any of the data collected by General Dynamics in its implementation of the new digital strategy, then laws have been broken.
And even if the use of Facebook data is within the letter of the law, the appearance is one of gross impropriety in the current climate where citizens already view with suspicion all government activity intended to invade their privacy, even if it is merely for the purpose of getting votes.
At this critical juncture in American history, citizens are increasingly worried about government incursions into their privacy and Constitutional rights. Thus, the question, do we as Americans want our government to have the ability to collect and store broad based data on its citizens for partisan political purposes?
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