|When Tactical Tech’s Data and Politics research team began to investigate how personal and individual data was being utilised in modern, digitally-enhanced political campaigns, we were quickly struck by the unbalanced coverage, particularly in the media, of the methods and strategies of data acquisition, analysis and utilisation by political campaigns across countries and different political contexts.|
In collaboration with international partners, we produced 14 studies to identify and examine some of the key aspects and trends in the use of data and digital strategies in recent and/or upcoming elections or referendums in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Italy, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Spain – Catalonia, the United Kingdom and the United States. By working with journalists, digital rights advocates, lawyers, academics and data scientists, our multidisciplinary and practitioner-led approach has produced contextual overviews and tangible case studies of how personal and individual data is used by political campaigns in countries across the globe. With this collection of reports, we aim to expand our understanding of these issues beyond the contemporary, global-north focused coverage.
The Catalan independence movement made international headlines in the fall of 2017 when the Spanish authorities clashed with citizens in an effort to block the vote on a referendum to create an independent republic. The confrontation was the culmination of years of conflict between the government of Spain and pro-independence governments and groups in Catalonia.
In the wake of the UK’s EU referendum and Scottish Independence Referendum, the events surrounding the Catalan vote were cited as further evidence of crumbling confidence in the European Union's political status-quo.
Tactical Tech partnered with the Eticas Foundation to look behind the headlines and clarify the role that personal data played during the climactic events of the independence referendum, in which there was never a definitive majority for either side of the debate, and in which personal data and digital strategies played a surprisingly prominent role.
Below is a brief summary of some of the notable events and trends discovered by our partners at Eticas Foundation. The full report can be accessed here.
Voter data was a highly contested asset throughout the course of the referendum
Along with legal battles and physical clashes, the struggle between the two sides of the debate erupted into the digital space, in what Eticas Foundation's report speculates may have been "Europe's first civil cyberwar."
More details on the legal battle over personal data and the universal census, the digital warfare between the competing positions and an assessment of the role of fake news and disinformation can be found in Eticas Foundation's full report here.
An introduction to the Influence Industry project can be found at The Influence Industry: The Global Business of Using Your Data in Elections and an introduction to the methods used by the political data industry can be found at Tools of the Influence Industry. Similar, country-specific studies on the uses of personal data in elections can be found here, with more to be added each week.
Gary Wright is a researcher and project coordinator at Tactical Technology Collective with a history in technology & innovation in international development cooperation, as well as digital and privacy rights.
Thank you to Christy Lange, Stephanie Hankey, Raquel Renno, Safa Ghnaim, and Varoon Bashyakarla for their comments and assistance with posting this piece online.
Published September 11, 2018.