Trends in Voter Surveillance in Western Societies: Privacy Intrusions and Democratic Implications

Colin J Bennett

Abstract


This paper surveys the various voter surveillance practices recently observed in the United States, assesses the extent to which they have been adopted in other democratic countries, and discusses the broad implications for privacy and democracy. Four broad trends are discussed:  the move from voter management databases to integrated voter management platforms; the shift from mass-messaging to micro-targeting employing personal data from commercial data brokerage firms; the analysis of social media and the social graph; and the decentralization of data to local campaigns through mobile applications. The de-alignment of the electorate in most Western societies has placed pressures on parties to target voters outside their traditional bases, and to find new, cheaper, and potentially more intrusive, ways to influence their political behavior. This paper builds on previous research to consider the theoretical tensions between concerns for excessive surveillance, and the broad democratic responsibility of parties to mobilize voters and increase political engagement. These issues have been insufficiently studied in the surveillance literature. They are not just confined to the privacy of the individual voter, but relate to broader dynamics in democratic politics.


Keywords


surveillance, elections, parties, micro-targeting

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