Voting Privacy

Voice Card  -  Volume 27  -  Paul Card Number 8  -  Sun, Feb 21, 1993 10:05 AM

From: Norman Kraft
Newsgroups: alt.privacy
Subject: Privacy alert - San Diego voters on CD
Date: 8 Jun 92 18:31:33 GMT
Organization: Argus Computing, San Diego, CA

An article that made the front page of the San Diego Union on Sunday, June 7, 1992 bore the title: "Technology pits privacy vs. Information Age". The article starts with these paragraphs:

The morning after Bill Turner voted in last week's election, he picked up a copy of a local computer magazine and his jaw dropped. "This ad just jumped out and hit me in the face," said the 35-year old La Mesa computer programmer. "It was a severe shock." There, for sale, were Turner's name, address, unlisted telephone number, occupation, birthplace, birthdate and political affiliation.

A list of San Diego County's 1.25 million registered voters containing the information is available for $99 in a relatively new format [CD-ROM] that virtually anyone with a personal computer can use. It is the first known such use of voter registration data in the nation.


The CD-ROM is marketed by a San Diego company call Sole Source Systems, a local computer store.

Lists of voter information have always been available, and political campaigns have had access to the information on data tapes for years. This is, however, the first time that such information has been made available to the public at large, in an easily accessible format (dBase, from what I can gather).

Sole Source says that use of the CD is limited to "election purposes, ...election, scholarly or political research, or government purposes." Sole Source says that they require ID and the completion of a form before selling the CD. Turner responds to this with "What is there to prevent me from going up there and telling him I'm with the Little Old Ladies Auxilliary 97, and I want this list to call people up and help arrange transportation to the polls on Election Day? It would be a bald-faced lie, but I would get it [the CD]."

He may be right, as Conny McCormack, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters says that the registrar's office does not check to make sure the list is being used within the law, primarily because "we have no authority in that area."

David Banisar, a policy analyst with Computer Professionals for Social Responsibilities in Washington, DC, said in all likelihood the CD would end up in the hands of direct marketers. "This is really an unanticipated use of the data," he said, "You register to vote because you want to feel patriotic and do your citizen's duty and try to get some good government. You don't register to vote so that you can be solicited by every bozo out there with a widget that he feels he should hock to you."

The article goes on to discuss the problems of privacy in the computer age, and mentions two other CD-ROM databases that are publicly available: PhoneDisc USA, from a corporation of the same name in Marblehead, Mass., lists 90 million names, addresses and phone numbers nation wide. MetroScan CD, from Transamerica Information Management in Sacramento, is a database containing housing ownership information, from deed filings, and for a given address provides the owner's name, address, when the building was purchased, how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has, how many square feet it has, and it's property tax assessment.

In the article, Ken Smith, from Transamerica Information Magagement, is quoted as saying:

"I'm very much in favor of making the information, if it's in the public domain, available to a very wide audience, rather than just major corporations and government agencies. It's a very, very powerful tool for the little guy."

and further:

"I don't think the privace issue has been a concern yet. I can see where it might be in the future, but it's not a problem now."

Finally the article goes back to Dante Tuccero, from PhoneDisc USA Corp., listing such PhoneDisc customers as "the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Navy, the Air Force, the Social Security Administration, as well as local libraries and law enforcement, public investigators, geneologists, and even high school and college reunions." Quoting Tuccero, "There's a company in Langley, Va,. that uses it, I believe, but wouldn't say so."

The last paragraphs of the article point out that "the direct-mail company that provides PhoneDisc with most of it's data prefers to remain off other people's lists."

"We're not at liberty to share that," Tuccero said, "A lot of data providers like to be low key."

The saddest part of the whole article, in my opinion, is this statement from Turner: "I have voted in every election since I was 18, and I think (this) was the last election I'll ever vote in."

[For those concerned about the PhoneDisc listings, they will remove your name from the next release of their CD if you call. They claim that only two people have called so far. I imagine we can change that! Their number in Marblehead, Mass. is available from directory assistance.]

Norman R. Kraft, Senior Partner, Argus Computing, San Diego, CA