Political Privacy and Online Politics: How E-Campaigning Threatens Voter Privacy

Christopher Hunter

Abstract


In the 1998 and 2000 U.S. elections, the Internet played an important role as a source of information for citizens and as a campaign tool for office seekers. The rise of Internet campaigning has brought about numerous benefits including increased access to political information, increased depth of content, and the ability to engage in online interactive political dialogue. Unfortunately, there is a potential dark side to all of this interaction. Just as the rise of electronic commerce has created tremendous concerns about online privacy, so too has the rise of e-campaigning. Through the use of cookies, online donation forms, and political mailing lists, Internet-based campaigns can now gather tremendous amounts of information about which candidates voters prefer and where they choose to surf. The creation and sale of such detailed voter profiles raises serious questions about the future of political privacy and the democratic electoral process itself. This paper will explore the importance of political privacy, its protection through our rights to associational privacy and anonymous speech, and the many ways that the political preferences of citizens are compromised online by campaign Web sites, database and e-mail marketers, and excessive U.S. Federal Election Commission disclosure rules. The potential negative effects of a monitored electorate on the democratic process are also examined.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v7i2.930



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