The creation of OFA, which is being chaired by former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, is stirring controversy – both among public interest groups over the group’s plans to accept unlimited corporate donations, and among privacy advocates over the transfer of the database.
“It’s extremely worrisome,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, noting that Obama campaign supporters likely have no idea that personal data they voluntarily shared with the campaign has now been transferred and is being used for purposes beyond the election.
Dubbed the “nuclear codes”
by campaign aides, the Obama campaign database is widely described as one of the most powerful tools ever developed in American politics. According to published reports, it contains the names of at least 4 million Obama donors – as well as millions of others (the campaign has consistently refused to say how many) compiled from voter registration rolls and other public databases. In addition, the campaign used sophisticated computer programs — with code names like “Narwhal” — to collect information through social media: Anybody who contacted the campaign through Facebook had their friends and “likes” downloaded
. If they contacted the campaign website through mobile apps, cellphone numbers and address books were downloaded
. Computer “cookies” captured Web browsing and online spending habits
“I can’t think of anything that rivals this data,” said Coney, noting that much of the data was voluntarily supplied by voters, something that consumers are often reluctant to do when dealing with commercial companies. “The private sector would love to be able to do what the (Obama) campaign was able to do.”
OFA spokeswoman Hogan said that Obama supporters have the option in emails they receive of opting out — or unsubscribing — from the list, as required by federal law. But critics say that is not necessarily an option for information collected about voters through other means (such as public databases) and note that many on the list likely don’t notice the “unsubscribe” fine print on the emails.