Political Campaigns to Your Email: Spam or Free Speech?

Voter Registration Card
Brace yourself for email from the presidential candidates. Although the 2003 CAN-SPAM law (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) restricts how companies use email addresses, political candidates are exempt, according to a Fox News report:

"'Political communications are not spam. Political communications are a demonstration of free speech in America,' said Stuart Shapiro, president of iConstituent, a Washington, D.C.-based firm which uses state-generated email lists to send messages on behalf of clients on all sides of the political spectrum.

"'There is a tenet in government that is based on communicating with our constituents, and email is one of the most effective ways to do it,' Shapiro said. 'People look forward to it and want it.'"

"People look forward to it and want it"? Shaun Dakin, president and CEO of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, disagrees: "Politicians love the fact that their perceived freedom of speech is more important than voters' privacy." To be fair, voters offer their emails on voter registration cards, so perhaps they do want to be contacted. On the other hand, do people realize that providing an email address is optional? This is clear on some registration cards but not on others. Also, do people know that, in nine states, emails can be sold to political campaigns and organizing groups?

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your assessment of this story? Do you believe it's wrong to sell voters' email addresses, or is this simply an example of politicians' free speech?
  • Look at two or three voter registration form online. (Search images.google.com.) What advice would you give to the form designer who wants to make it clear that email addresses are optional? Would you also include an explanation of how email addresses are used (and that they could be sold)? Why or why not?