Labour and Greens harvesting emails

Labour and Green Parties harvesting petition email addresses for wider political purposes is raised in a Standard post, where activists  from both parties try to defend it – Muppets.

Did Mike Williams just suggest (about 19 minutes in) that the Greens and Labour Parties utilise the email addresses they gathered from the petition against asset sales in their election campaigns?! I sincerely hope he wasn’t channeling an idea that has any traction within the Labour Party machine.

Just to be absolutely clear on this. I did a lot of political activism in the past. And sometimes that involved gathering people’s email addresses or whatever on petitions and so on. Any thought of using those contact details to canvas on other matters, or even associated matters, was rightly so off the cards as to be unthinkable. If there is a desire to use collected contact details, then the simple inclusion of a tick box for permission to contact should be included on any form. Otherwise…no. Don’t do it. It’s that simple.

The only surprise is this is a surprise to some. It’s been talked about since early this year – Asset petition a data source for political spam? and also on Whale Oil yesterday – The Green Party Data scammers: Look at their Guidelines where it was pointed out:

We want to stay in touch with supporters about the campaign and other Green Party activities. That’s why we ask for email, address and phone. Contact info is optional, email is best.

Amongst the comments is some good advice:

Idiot/Savant

I encourage everyone who believes their information has been misused in this way to lodge a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.

Also remember to tell the world you’ve done so. Bad publicity is an effective weapon against politicians; make sure you use it.

Apart from it possibly being illegal as it is contrary to the Privacy Act this would be deceitful use of the asset sales petition.

However a Labour Party activist claims a very extravagant interpretation:

Te Reo Putake

Hate to inject some reality into this discussion, but the petition form asks signers to provide their phone and email address if they want to “keep up to date with the campaign”. A phone call from Labour, the Greens or Grey Power during election year for that purpose would obviously be lawful.

An obvious update would be either party announcing they intended to buy back the assets or some similar measure.

So, no privacy breach as long as it’s relevant to the campaign.

http://www.labour.org.nz/sites/default/files/KOA_CIR_PETITION_FORM_L_27_04_2012.pdf

That opens up the possibility of weaselly workarounds of the law. “The campaign” was the campaign to gather signatures for the petition. Unless Te reo Putake is suggesting it was always intended as a long running political campaign using the petition and referendum for taxpayer funding.

And a Green Party activist also tries to make excuses:

toad

What’s more, all emails a person receives from the Greens in response to signing a petition have the following options:

Unsubscribe from this email list

Change subscriptions and update your details – subscribe to email newsletters and more

Unsubscribe from all emails

So at any time a person who opts to go onto the Green database through signing a petition can unsubscribe from receiving all emails, or particular types of emails from the Greens (or can add particular additional types of emails they want to receive if they wish).

Harvesting and then providing an opt-out option after spamming is not acceptable, as a Green supporter says:

framu

“So at any time a person who opts to go onto the Green database through signing a petition”

but unless that situation was stated up front all they did was sign a petition – thats the problem

Im a solid green voter but i detest ANYTHING turning up in my email that i didnt ask for. Even from those i support

like others have said – all it needs is an opt in check box – “do you want to receive further communications from the green party”.

It shouldnt be an opt out later situation

Bill

Toad. If I sign a petition, it means that I’m signing a petition. And that’s it. The signing isnot a license for the holder of the petition to contact me on either that or other mattersunless they have explicitly sought and received my permission to do so.

As I said in the post, I’ve collected signatures and details on a number of occasions. Usually the petition was simply to give people the feeling they were doing something in support of whatever the cause was…ie, it wasn’t really of any consequence or help.

Anyway, I can say with absolute confidence that most people who sign a petition want the signing to be the beginning and end of their involvement. (This from the %age of ‘buy in’ when a ‘buy in’ option was put on forms and pointed out to people)

But sure, feel entitled to pester people as you seem to indicate is your ‘right’ having gained contact details. It’ll blow up in your face.

Idiot/Savant

The petition form’s only nod to the Privacy Act was a note saying “To keep up to date with the campaign please provide your email and phone number”. Which suggests strongly that use of the information collected should be limited to the actual referendum campaign, not the wider political campaigning of the petitioner or political parties doing the collection.

Responses are very concerning:

Te Reo Putake

Nope, it’s all part of the same campaign, Bill. One of the ‘other strings’ you have forgotten is the just completed referendum. The next string is the election campaign. If you signed the petition and gave your details, you have consented to be contacted about asset sales. That’s the fact of the matter.

Te Reo Putake

Referring to I/S’s narrow understanding of what the word campaign means doesn’t help. The anti asset sales campaign continues unabated and the use of the contact details for the purpose for which they were provided is not only sensible, it’s vital.

The would mean parties could call it an endless campaign and endlessly abuse the intent of the Privacy Act. That will annoy a lot of people.

No Right Turn has also blogged on this calling it (correctly) Grossly unethical:

To point out the obvious: this is a screaming violation of Privacy Principle 10, and possibly Privacy Principle 11 if you take the collecting agency as Roy Reid, the formal petitioner, rather than the parties who provided the footsoldiers. And it is grossly unethical. Quite apart from that, its also stupid, burning both potential supporters and their activist base (who may not be too keen on having their hard work perverted to violate people’s privacy).

As for what to do about it, firstly people have a right of access to information held about them by agencies – so if you gave the petition campaign your email address, you can always check with Labour to see if it has somehow migrated its way into their fundraising and supporter’s databases. And if the information is used, then I recommend lodging a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.

You should also publicise that complaint over social media (or, if you feel like it, by emailing a press release to Scoop – but social media is probably enough, because people like me will retweet it if we see it, and journalists will pick up an easy story like this).

Political parties are (sensibly) afraid of bad publicity, and this is the best stick we have to enforce ethical behaviour on them. Sadly, it looks like we may have to use it.

Not a good look if this is the official Labour view on it:

Te Reo Putake

Yep, you’re starting to get it! As long as they are contacted about the asset sales, then its not an issue at all. And given how big a deal asset sales is to most kiwis, just about every phone call and email from the left is going to mention it.

 

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