Dems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue

Dems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue
© Getty Images

Democrats are looking to seize on growing public worries about data privacy to rally voters in the upcoming midterms.

Tech policy typically ranks low on an average voter’s list of priorities, prompting skepticism that data privacy can move the needle in an election.

But in a couple key Senate races in Nevada and Arizona, Democratic campaign groups say public frustration over how corporations are able to suck up increasing amounts of consumer data could make a difference.

They specifically want to use last year’s congressional vote to repeal broadband privacy regulations to attack Republicans.

ADVERTISEMENT
Only 15 House Republicans voted against scrapping Federal Communications Commission rules that would have prevented broadband companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from collecting “sensitive” data, including browsing histories, from consumers.

To Democrats, the vote fits perfectly into their messaging as they try to brand Republicans as looking out for corporate interests at the expense of consumers.

And while the broadband privacy regulations didn’t cover internet companies like Facebook and Google, Democrats think the recent fervor stemming from the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal will help further galvanize voters already frustrated about data privacy.

“I think these issues are going to come together around broader concerns about young people saying we’re getting ripped off on matters that ought to be private,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (D-Ore.) told The Hill on Friday.

In Arizona, Democrats are hoping to make data privacy issue in the race for retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP senator: Senate should be 'disgusted' by Helsinki summit Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE’s (R) seat.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Arizona Democratic Party have criticized Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyElection Countdown: Calls to abolish ICE test Dem candidates | First round of House GOP 'Young Guns' | How Tester is handling Trump's Montana visit | Dem candidate won't back Schumer as leader | Super PACs ramp up Missouri ad buys GOP Senate candidate’s husband spreads conspiracy theories online: report Ariz. GOP Senate hopeful touts her backing of Trump, border security MORE (R-Ariz.) over her vote to repeal the broadband privacy protections. Her challenger, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), voted against the repeal.

“Congresswoman McSally exposed Arizonans’ web privacy—then raked in campaign cash,” Arizona Democrats wrote on a website they created to attack McSally’s record on internet privacy. 

Arizona Democrats also point to the $42,000 McSally has received from telecommunications companies who also supported the repeal. McSally has received around $100,000 from telecommunications companies over her three-year career in the House, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

McSally’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In Nevada, Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenJacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Democrats break with left on ICE MORE’s (D) Senate campaign and Nevada Democrats have lobed similar attacks at Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerJacky Rosen hits Dean Heller over health care in first negative ad GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Nev.) over his vote against broadband privacy. They point out that Heller, who is considered the most vulnerable Senate GOP incumbent, has received just over $200,000 from the telecommunications services sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Heller campaign Keith Schipper dismissed the criticism from Democrats, suggesting the issue would not resonate with voters.

“If this is the best Democrats can come up with, then Jacky Rosen might as well start packing up her office and moving her belongings back to Las Vegas or California now,” he said.

Voters under 30 are notoriously unreliable in midterm elections, when turnout typically falls, but Wyden thinks the broadband issue can be useful.

“I think all over the country this is a growing concern from young people who are tech-savvy,” he said.

“Young people are going to say that companies have to protect their data and they have the right to know what happens to their data. If companies don’t protect their data, then young people will say that there have to be consequences.”

Democratic campaign organizations, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee, are also voicing optimism.

“This is not an abstract issue for voters. Everyone goes online. Everyone’s family is online,” said David Bergstein, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.