How politi­cians spy on us

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - LABOR LEADERSHIP - JOHN ROLFE

PO­LIT­I­CAL par­ties are not just spy­ing on vot­ers, they are billing it to the tax­payer.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Sun­day Tele­graph re­veals fed­eral La­bor and Coali­tion par­lia­men­tar­i­ans have made hun­dreds of seem­ingly in­nocu­ous “soft­ware re­im­burse­ment” claims since the last elec­tion, with the money fun­nelled into cen­tralised data­bases.

Th­ese sys­tems can cross­match pri­vate elec­toral roll de­tails such as ad­dress and age — avail­able to par­ties due to a con­tro­ver­sial law ex­emp­tion — with Face­book pro­files, cen­sus in­for­ma­tion, door-to-door sur­veys and much more.

“Not only is this hap­pen­ing, you are pay­ing for it,” a for­mer La­bor front­bencher said, de­scrib­ing it as “spy­ing” de­signed to iden­tify “per­suad­ables” — those whose vote can be turned.

At the 2016 fed­eral elec­tion, the ALP’s sys­tem iden­ti­fied two mil­lion such peo­ple who were then “mi­cro-tar­geted”.

The cam­paign was run by now US-based dig­i­tal spe­cial­ist Erinn Swan, daugh­ter of for­mer fed­eral trea­surer and cur­rent La­bor MP Wayne Swan. She de­clined to com­ment.

Anal­y­sis of more than 1300 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ claims in the two years to June 2018 re­veals La­bor MPs and sen­a­tors sought $356,000 for soft­ware, typ­i­cally at $2000 to $3000 per year. At this rate, the Op­po­si­tion will claim more than $530,000 this term. Coali­tion par­lia­men­tar­i­ans sub­mit­ted soft­ware ex­penses of $322,000, which would add up to more than $483,000 over the term.

The soft­ware pay­ments are sent di­rectly to “nom­i­nated providers”. La­bor’s is called Cam­paign Cen­tral, run by the na­tional sec­re­tar­iat, which wouldn’t com­ment.

Cam­paign Cen­tral didn’t start as a tool of “per­sua­sion”, a for­mer top party of­fi­cial said, but that’s what it is be­com­ing.

Coali­tion claim pro­ceeds go to a com­pany named Para­keelia, whose di­rec­tors in­clude party boss and for­mer NSW pre­mier Nick Greiner.

Cen­tre Al­liance fed­eral MP Re­bekha Sharkie has called for an in­quiry into ma­jor par­ties’ data-min­ing.

Aus­tralian Pri­vacy Foun­da­tion chair­man David Vaile said par­ties were “ad­dicted” to col­lect­ing lu­cra­tive data.

Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ol­ogy Ari­adne Vromen said the par­ties “need to think about whether they are re­spect­ing the dig­i­tal pri­vacy of the peo­ple they are tar­get­ing”.

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