Monday, October 01, 2007

Government Election data on a commercial site?

Election fever has hit Trinidad and Tobago. One good thing is that all sorts of people have been working on a registration drive - make sure you're registered, only a few more days left to register, etc. That's great. The Election and Boundaries Commission set up a telephone hotline and has been putting ads in every media outlet to get people to make sure they're registered to vote.


Recently there have been a lot of emails along the lines of the following:

Please have all persons check the following site to check their registration

Now - I have a problem with this. This is not an official Government website. When I registered to vote, I gave my information to the Government. Not to a commercial website. The EBC has publicly indicated that they don't know anything about this site. So HOW did they get the ENTIRE election database?

And more disturbingly, why is no-one asking this question? Why are Trinidad and Tobago nationals blithely logging on to a website that has their national identification information without asking them - hey - whoo are you and how did you get MY INFO?

If the Govt gave it to them, then we need to know under what law are they allowed to hand over something as important as the election database, how do they determine who gets it, and what information do they get? The EBC has my ID number, my address, my age, my date of birth. In other words, more than enough information for anyone to open a bank account in my name, take out a credit card, even a loan or a mortgage.

Who are the people behind this website and what precautions are they taking with my data? What do they intend to do with it besides allow me to find out if I am registered to vote? Will they use it later on to spam me? To steal my identity? To interfere with my life?

Do our laws allow the Government to had this information over to just anyone? Dry so?

Has anyone heard of identity theft? This website and the process that allowed this data to fall into commercial hands needs to be investigated, and precautions put into place to prevent such access to sensitive data and posting it online!

The site is currently offline and I hope it stays that way. It's important for people to have an easy way to check their electoral status, but not at the risk that this poses.


Anonymous said...

i totally agree with your concerns about identity theft as i share them to... i've been trying to view the website for some days now and its been offline all the while... really need some answers from the EBC on this matter

Brendon said...

In addition to the online list, I've been to a few political party meetings where the executive members had a copy of the lists per polling division. The data comprised:

Name, Address, Telephone Number and Email address. I believe the telephone and email were collected by the party itself. However, there was too little concern for the safety of this information. It was being freely passed around, copied and shared with all present. No type of written policy at the very least was in place to dictate the appropriate usage of that information.

I suggested some basic methods of safeguarding that type of info, but we need a louder voice to ensure these currently minor concerns don't develop into the major problems other countries see i.e. identity theft.

Anonymous said...

The data is available to anyone who visits the EBC and is prepared to pay for it. The data so acquired does not include any unique identifiers - just Name, Address and Polling/Electoral districts.

Under the laws of T&T this is public data - in fact the EBC is required to publish this data in printed form prior to an election with even greater risk of misuse as the data can be tampered with by any individual. The printed lists often get defaced, torn etc. making it very difficult for citizens to find their names.

Perhaps the question should be asked why the EBC doesn't publish the list themselves since we now know that the technology is available and was used by more than 20,000 citizens in just one day.

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