Thursday is Data Privacy Day, “an international effort held annually on January 28 to create awareness about the importance of privacy and protecting personal information.”
I’m an open data advocate who’s equally concerned about privacy. So on Saturday, I nearly spilled my coffee when I read that Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt disclosed that two critics of his office missed voting in some elections. Schmidt shared the data in retaliation to their calls to abolish the elections commission which is “led” by a chairman who doesn’t vote and seldom shows up at the office.
As a longtime voting rights activist, I want people to vote. I also want them to stay engaged beyond Election Day because that’s how you bring about change. That said, I believe one’s voting habit is no one’s business unless that person is receiving a taxpayer-funded six-figure salary to oversee elections.
Indeed, at last year’s Code for Philly Apps for Democracy Hackathon, I expressed my dismay that a team had developed an app, Social Voting, which would allow users to check to see whether their neighbors voted. Vote-shaming is of a piece with slut-shaming and fat-shaming.
Disclosing voting data sows distrust of government. If private citizens believe their voting record will be open to public scrutiny, they will be reluctant to register to vote.