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Privacy Perspectives | PII as Political Might Related reading: PII as a Weapon

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A record number of American voters watched the first two Republican presidential debates this week. And while it's hard for anything of substance to come through with so many voices jockeying for attention, there is one thing that is clear: Data is at the center of this election. 

National politics in the United States is a data-driven game nowadays, and many believe that the best big data analyst will win. 

Just look at the battle over voter lists that has emerged between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Koch Brothers. The RNC decided it would share its master voter list with the Kochs’ organization in exchange for help in modernizing its operations through the Koch’s i360 platform.

The Kochs' i360 platform proved so popular with Republican candidates, however, that they began to wonder what they needed the RNC for at all. In fact, "The RNC is now openly arguing ... that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file and to gain influence over—some even say control of—the GOP."

Yes, we now find ourselves in the U.S. in a time when the power of ideas and platform is being eclipsed by the power of data. PII, in many ways, is a source of political might. And how are candidates using their cash? Increasingly, they're using it to acquire more data. 

The current leader in Republican polls has made a point to mention that he has plenty of money to support his campaign. Donald Trump has reportedly sought to gain advantage in the primaries through the new currency of political campaigns: Data. Yet this is something the Koch brothers wouldn't give him. Instead, Trump reportedly signed a data-sharing agreement with the RNC in exchange for their list of 250 million voters. 

You'll also notice that the way the RNC has fought back against the Koch brothers is with a data-use app of its own to rival i360: "Republic VX is designed in such a way that should make the campaigns using it reliant on the RNC’s voter file rather than one offered by i360, a rival data warehouse that is part of a parallel infrastructure developed by Charles and David Koch."

For a privacy professional, the obvious questions emerge: Who is managing this data? What laws guide its use? How do data subjects (citizens) express their choices with regards to their data?

At one point in last night’s debate, a heated exchange occurred over surveillance and national security. It was encouraging to hear that privacy issues had arrived as an issue worthy of a primary debate. But, in addition to their positions on the major privacy issues facing society, we should probably also be asking candidates to share how they are managing privacy within their own campaigns.

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