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Data Security and Access to Voters’ Personal Data by Political Parties: An EU Case Study

Laszlo Dellei, MBA, CISA, CGEIT, CRISC, C|CISO, ISO27LA, CEO of KERUBIEL LTD.
| Posted at 3:01 PM by ISACA News | Category: Risk Management | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)

Laszlo DelleiEditor’s note: The ISACA Now blog is featuring a series of posts on the topic of election data integrity. ISACA Now previously published a US perspective and UK perspective on the topic. Today, we publish a post from Laszlo Dellei, providing an EU perspective.

Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election showed that microtargeting voters to deliver them certain political messages may gradually alter voters’ decisions. While less publicized, concerns related to election data integrity also exist throughout the EU. The European Parliament has conducted several public hearings on this topic and the Commission is supporting Member States to secure their local and national elections, as well as their citizens’ participation in EU elections.

The Commission recently published a communication on free and fair European elections, which outlines all the efforts made by the institutions to make sure that the upcoming EU elections in 2019 will be held democratically. The EU’s strategy is to combine data protection, cybersecurity, cooperation, transparency, and appropriate sanctions.

For instance, the Commission proposes introducing financial penalties of 5 percent of the annual budget of the European party or political foundation concerned if they infringe the data protection rules in an attempt to influence the outcome of elections to the European Parliament.

Another key aspect of this strategy is the implementation of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) equipped to help prevent and address unlawful use of personal data. Therefore, the Commission prepared specific guidance to highlight the data protection obligations of relevance in the electoral context.

In parallel, the Commission published recommendations to enhance the efficient conduct of the 2019 EU elections. Key points are as follows:

  • The EU encourages Member States to establish and support a national elections network to ensure cooperation in connected fields (such as data protection authorities, media regulators, cybersecurity authorities, law enforcement etc.).
  • It is also recommended to encourage and facilitate the transparency of paid online political advertisements and communications.
  • Member States should also take appropriate and proportionate technical and organizational measures to manage the risks posed to the security of network and information systems used for the organization of elections.
  • Member States are encouraged to set up awareness-raising activities aimed at increasing the transparency of elections and building trust in the electoral processes.

Sources of voter data in Hungary
In my country, Hungary, the relevant regulations and practices may reveal certain risks and problems in this respect. Current rules providing protection of voters’ personal data, especially provisions governing integrity and security of such information, will be revised.

During microtargeting, information may be used to deliver political messages to the recipients. In addition to the name and political preferences of the data subject, the processing of physical or email addresses and mobile phone numbers are necessary for the intended targeting. In this regard, Hungarian legislation provides several opportunities for the political parties to access voters’ personal data.

Among the legal sources, information provided to the parties by the election offices is of paramount importance. Candidates and nominating organizations (mostly political parties) may request the names and addresses of voters in the voter register from the relevant electoral office for campaign purposes. The information may be provided by age, gender, or address of the data subjects. Although these data do not contain information on the voters’ political opinion or party affiliation, the data may be used to obtain additional information for the purposes of microtargeting.

Secondly, political parties usually communicate with their supporters via various methods including physical or email addresses, land or mobile phone numbers, etc. The sources of this information may vary. It may be collected from the data subject at a campaign rally or other events organized by the party. Supporters may provide the party with their contact details when – for instance – they sign an initiative for a referendum, or when they support another political action with their signature. During the elections, political parties may also use this data for campaign purposes.

The main risk concerning the processing of personal data of voters by political parties arises from the lack of comprehensive legislation and effective supervision. The current regulation concerning electoral procedure predates the GDPR and the 2016 events (Brexit and the election in the US). Furthermore, there is no specific legislation concerning political campaign activities; only the provisions of the Privacy Act of 2011 had previously been applied. Therefore, the relevant laws do not focus on the possibility of microtargeting and thus the importance of integrity and safety of voters’ personal data.

Conclusions
Given the global events of recent years, the focus on the integrity and security of voters’ personal data will be a priority from a legislative standpoint as well as from the point-of-view of the relevant actors in the EU and around the world. The lack of regulation and effective supervision in this regard may lead to serious consequences that could harm democracy and erode society’s trust in its institutions.

Although the GDPR and the Privacy Act provide for a wider protection for data subjects, and thus for voters, it is necessary to adopt such regulations that define certain technological requirements and other safeguards to prevent misuse and to provide integrity of voters’ data.

Author’s note: Laszlo Dellei is an experienced, certified and internationally recognized InfoSec, Cybersecurity, Security, Privacy and ITSM professional, with a multidisciplinary background. Laszlo received his B.S. degree in Information Technology from the Dennis Gabor College and the MBA in Information Management specialized in Security from the Metropolitan University. Furthermore, Laszlo proudly holds, among others, the following internationally recognized credentials: C|CISO, CISA, CGEIT, CRISC, ITIL and ISO27001. Laszlo is dealing with the referred disciplines for almost 15 years. As the CEO of Kerubiel Kft, besides management tasks, he also is responsible for high‐priority operations in the following domains: Physical Security, Environmental Security, Cyber and Information Security. Laszlo also is a registered and active security expert of the European Commission. Furthermore, he is a member of the Hungarian Chamber of Judicial Experts, Gold Member of ISACA, member of the EC‐ Council, and member of John von Neumann Computer Society.

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