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Privacy & Data

Federal Government Listbuilding of Americans Shifts into High Gear

Earlier this year, in what seemed like grandiose language at the time, I warned that “the listbuilding had begun.” I cautioned the tech industry to be mindful of their role as a central aggregator of the most personal data, to delete data where possible, to exercise appropriate security around databases, and to push back against overbroad government requests.

The listbuilding has begun, and not only with the partnership of the technology sector. What the current Administration has apparently failed to obtain through other means, it is now seeking through attempts to bully state election officials into providing robust personal information.

Advocates in many quarters have immediately denounced this effort as a thinly veiled attempt to engage in officially sanctioned voter suppression and election interference. This is certainly true. And the consequences are dire.

But this level of intrusion into the personal, daily lives of our citizens has ramifications that go far beyond the importance of casting our votes. Amassing a national list of identity – including residential home addresses, birthdates, partial Social Security Numbers, political preferences, voting history, and other habits – amounts to an unprecedented shift of the balance of power and knowledge about our ordinary and intimate daily lives into the hands of the federal government.

Certainly ensuring election integrity is essential to our democracy. And there are many valid steps that state election officials can take to ensure the security of their systems, the integrity of their voter rolls, and the confidence of our citizens. But placing a comprehensive list of identity, location, and belief into a single Federal database is an anathema to individual liberty. In a letter to state election officials, 50 experts and 20 privacy organizations agree, urging officials to oppose this outrageous request for voter records.

Listbuilding is its own form of surveillance and has its own chilling effects. The Constitutional principles at the core of American identity and our way of life – freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of expression – are anchored by personal privacy. Exercising these other freedoms requires us to be free from the prying eyes of our own government. The collection and retention of mass amounts of data about our individual habits is a threat to the fundamental freedoms we celebrate this Independence Day weekend.

Personal privacy is essential to individual liberty and to our democracy. We stand with our friends in the state election community who are pushing back against these outrageous requests, and we will partner with them as they work to improve their technical capabilities to ensure the enduring success of our democratic processes.