Monday, September 24, 2012

A pattern to Jason Kenney's online petition data mining

This story today rang a bell for me: "Jason Kenney’s office mined online petition to target message to gay Canadians." Kenney's office has done this before. About two years ago, I received an email from a long time reader of my blog outlining a similar email that they had received, out of the blue, from Jason Kenney. For whatever reason, I did not publish this information at the time although I did draft a post, go figure. Anyway. It should add some context to today's reporting to demonstrate for how long and how extensively Kenney's office has been mining online petitions and perhaps keeping lists of individuals who sign them.

All identifying information, other than mine and Jason Kenney's, has been redacted. Here is the email train from October 5, 2010. Best to start from the bottom and view the video Kenney sent:
On 2010-10-05, at 10:23 PM, wrote:

Ok thx!
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Date: Tue, 5 Oct 2010 19:22:33 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Email from "Kenney.J" - Conservatives and Liberals Help DefeatMilitary Deserter Law

On iPod now. I did not send individual email . I get group petitions from organized campaign for war resisters .

Sent from my iPod

On 2010-10-05, at 10:07 PM, wrote:

Had u ever emailed his office before?
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Date: Tue, 05 Oct 2010 22:06:42 -0400
To: Impolitic
Subject: Re: Email from "Kenney.J" - Conservatives and Liberals Help Defeat Military Deserter Law

I think you've got it! Of course they may respond if they wish, but like most of us I sign
many such petitions and this was handled differently than the rest. Let alone the
actual contents.

On 10/05/10 9:47 PM, Impolitic wrote:
Do you mean you signed an online petition somewhere and then Jason Kenney emailed you out of the blue? That is, you may have agreed with the petition being forwarded to the government but you did not anticipate that the government would compile an email list and email you directly.


Date: Tue, 05 Oct 2010 16:12:29 -0400
To: Impolitic
Subject: Fwd: Email from "Kenney.J" - Conservatives and Liberals Help Defeat Military Deserter Law

Hello. I had "signed" an online petition regarding the recently (closely) defeated
private member's bill in support of US war resisters. This arrived in my
Email a short time ago, and there are so many problems with this in substance and
tone - where to begin.* If you use this, please scrub of all personal references. Now
I know I'm on a "list"... [ed: redacted]

* Oh, all right. 1. Getting an Email at all in this way. Usually they come from an
organization, clearly identified. Awkward! 2. No identification of
the writer and his position in government. 3. "Bipartison support"? Oh? What was this,
a ... coalition? 4. "Military deserters."
5. "Special" pathway. Feeling entitled, are they? 6. "Here's a video of ME!!!" (and of
the question only apparently -- not necessarily the answer -- who wrote this, a 19-year-old
staffer?). 7. No gratitude for my expressing my views, which is my right and obligation in
a democracy. And usually appears first in political correspondence. 8. In short,
a cyber-slap in the face.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Conservatives and Liberals Help Defeat Military Deserter Law
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 2010 14:56:15 -0400

You have all emailed or written me at some point to express your views on the issue of US military deserters and recent legislation to give them a special pathway for permanent residency.

As you may know, with bipartisan support from Michael Ignatieff's Liberal Party caucus, the government succeeded in defeating the Bill. Here is a YouTube video of a question I answered during Question Period on the subject.

Yours sincerely,


If you watch that YouTube clip, you can see how the online petition in support of the war resisters was responded to by Kenney. He sent the petitioners a video of a setup question in Question Period that was unabashedly partisan. Did Kenney know, standing there that day in the House of Commons, that he would be using his Commons statement to email these petitioners?

What's worth noting in all this is the reaction by those on the receiving end of the emails from Kenney. They may have signed a petition and consented to their name being publicly associated with that petition as it was conveyed to Kenney's office. But you don't really contemplate a personal email in response, particularly when this has not been your experience to date when signing petitions. Is signing a petition the equivalent of emailing or writing to a minister? Probably not. If I received a personal email from a minister after having signed a petition I'd be a little taken aback too. We have expectations about how a government should act with our information and a partisan slap is not among those expectations.

There is also the concern that names may have been collected and may still exist on a database somewhere, to perhaps be used for purposes beyond the simple signature to the petition. "Now I know I'm on a list," was the concern expressed above. Is my correspondent's name still on a list? Has it been retained or disposed of after almost two years now?

Also worth thinking about, will this person and others sign petitions in the future? Maybe. Maybe not.

These provisions of the Privacy Act may be relevant.
4. No personal information shall be collected by a government institution unless it relates directly to an operating program or activity of the institution.

“personal information” means information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing,

(d) the address, fingerprints or blood type of the individual,
(e) the personal opinions or views of the individual except where they are about another individual or about a proposal for a grant, an award or a prize to be made to another individual by a government institution or a part of a government institution specified in the regulations,
Do names on an online petition relate directly to an operating program? Probably not. Do these names relate directly to an activity of the institution? Less clear. There may be other provisions in the Act that are relevant as well. Maybe the Privacy Commissioner might take note of this.

Wonder what else they're doing with the information they are deriving from these online petitions.