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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"We're politicians- trust us with your personal information!"

US Postal Service
As you are inundated with often personal mail, phone and email messages about how to vote on 21 August, and scratch your head about how well attuned some of these messages are to your personal circumstances, a reminder that the Commonwealth Privacy Act does not apply to registered political parties or to political representatives engaging in certain activities ‘in the political process.’ And that the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended two years ago that the exemption should be removed:
41.54 In the interests of promoting public confidence in the political process, those who exercise or seek power in government should adhere to the principles and practices that are required of the wider community. 
The recommendation -like those that called for changes to the conditions attached to self regulation by media organisations, and for a statutory cause of action for a serious unwarranted breach of privacy-is yet to receive a government response. Don't hold your breath.

In 2004 this [Report 41.4] is how the system worked, according to Peter van Onselen. Six years on information collection and database management is likely to be much more sophisticated.

In addition to the raw data supplied by the AEC, political parties go to considerable lengths to augment the information: The ALP database is named Electrac, and the Liberal’s is named Feedback. These databases use electronic White Pages to incorporate telephone numbers where available … Identifying voting preferences and issues of interest is a valuable albeit time consuming practice for political parties. Effective database management results in any contact by a constituent with an electorate office being logged into the system. Contact can be made by telephone, writing or in person … Door knocking, telephone canvassing and letters to the editor are additional methods by which information is gathered … Voter preferences recorded in the databases include swinging voter status, minor party or independent leaning, as well as strong or weak Liberal or Labor voter leanings. This information is most valuable in marginal seats. The information can be used for a number of purposes. Party organisations upload data from all electorates to track key issues and voting trends for use in qualitative polling, advertising and strategy formation. For individual MPs, the most important use is direct mail-outs targeted at swinging voters … Strongly Labor or Liberal Party identifying voters can be targeted for political donation.

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