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A Case Study in Privacy — AriWriter

by Ari Herzog on November 16, 2008 · 10 comments

Surely you’ve heard of the Obama-Biden Transition Project and know it’s a 501c(4) organization, right? Have you visited the official website at change.gov, read the blog, and shared your vision for America?

If you think like I do, perhaps you agree with Josh Bernoff’s 3 tips how change.gov should be improved?

In my last post, I quoted co-chair Valerie Jarrett saying the transition process between now and January 20 will be “transparent.” I thought that would be a step in the right direction.

I still hope transparency is possible in the government, but a curious investigation led me down a path to conclude transparency is the tip of the iceberg and change.gov is not what it seems.

With a desire to work on social media efforts for the Obama Administration, I recently applied for a job on change.gov. Nothing fancy; just a simple contact form.

I saw an email response yesterday, pointing me to continue the application process by filling out a 7-page, 63-question tell-all survey that New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes summarizes:

Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.

The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”

Declan McCullagh of CNet News expands upon Calmes’ summary with a closer look:

Translated into English, this means that President-elect Obama wants to know far more about you than his predecessors did. That requirement would force applicants to disclose information about Facebook and MySpace pages, profiles posted on dating Web sites, and even what was posted on Web sites like CNET and YouTube that allow readers to append comments.

If that doesn’t bother you, go ahead and fill out the application at change.gov/jobs/apply_app/ — but the information is not stored at change.gov.

Notice the bottom of the page where it says the application system is powered by Cluen technology?

Click the link and be redirected to the Cluen Corporation, an 18-year-old private firm that provides recruiting software solutions.

The basic idea behind the company’s Searchlight technology is a recruiting agency can collect data through online forms that are masked to be at the agency’s website and the data is stored on secure Cluen servers.

A tactic used by a recruiting firm should be different for a presidential transition team, right? Surely, job data would be stored on a government server somewhere?

Think again.

Check out https://searchlight2.cluen.com/CandidateLogin.asp?compid={BBCFD5B2-E18C-4307-BEFA-BD007B34C07D}&layout={D3264583-16A1-451A-A7DC-3BC1F4F61B56} which provides the true “power” of the attribution line at the change.gov application page.

In other words, not only are prospective applicants asked to submit 63 answers with personal information, but the data is stored at the Cluen Corporation. Perhaps this is included in the change.gov privacy policy under “physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards.”

Maybe I’m off my rocker, in which case you can donate money to the 501c(4) here.

If I’m not off my rocker, what are your thoughts?

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