Dear political campaigns: Just leave me the &%#*! alone

You may not be able to stop political junk mail, spam, or robocalls, but you can slow them down. Here's how.

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The Obama campaign Web site has an impressively detailed privacy policy that covers virtually every contingency you could imagine. The policies themselves, however: Not so impressive. The campaign collects vast amounts of information from a wide range of sources, attaches it to your identity, and shares it “with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that we believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives.”

In other words, they can share it with pretty much anyone they feel like. (That would explain all the spam I’m getting in my inbox from candidates I’ve never heard of.)

Want to opt out of this data collection? Tough. You can tell them to stop sending you email or text messages, but you’ll also have to do it for everybody they’ve shared your data with. And there’s no obvious way to remove your information from the massive voter databases the Obama campaign has been compiling.

Romney’s privacy policy, on the other hand, is a model of brevity. But it says almost nothing, and what is in there appears to be wrong. For example, the policy claims to only collect non-personally identifiable data. But the first thing you see when you visit MittRomney.com is a form asking for your email address – which is very much personally identifiable data. Nothing in the policy addresses what happens to that information.

If you’ve signed up for MyMitt, you can ask the campaign to please not use your name in its promotional materials, but the email address it provides for opting out doesn’t work. I sent a message to it and got a response saying that email address is “not monitored for incoming mail.” Nice.

The policies for both parties’ national committees are no better. Like the two presidential candidates, the DNC and GOP share your information with other “like minded” organizations and offer only an email or texting opt out.

The problem? When it comes to privacy, political data gets a free pass under the law, notes Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“When Congress passes laws like Do Not Call or anti-spam and anti-robocall bills, these laws never apply to political campaigns or nonprofit organizations,” she says. “Political speech receives a higher level of protection than advertising.”

So what can you do to fight this?

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