Technology

Dems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue

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.

{mosads}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 Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Hill on Friday.

In Arizona, Democrats are hoping to make data privacy issue in the race for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) seat.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Arizona Democratic Party have criticized Rep. Martha McSally (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 Rosen’s (D) Senate campaign and Nevada Democrats have lobed similar attacks at Sen. Dean Heller (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. 

Tags Dean Heller Jacky Rosen Jeff Flake Martha McSally Ron Wyden
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