July 31, 2019 - Faculty Director Julie Cohen Cited in New Senate Bill to Protect Voter Information

Work by our Faculty Director Julie Cohen was cited today in the findings for new proposed federal legislation to protect voter privacy.

The Voter Privacy Act, S. 2398, introduced by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, seeks to regulate the information about voters collected and used by political campaigns in federal elections. It would allow voters to review personal information collected by political organizations, require organizations to notify voters when they receive personal information, and permit voters to require deletion or prevent the transfer or sale of their data. Voters would be able to instruct websites like Google and Facebook to withhold their data profiles from political organizations to avoid targeted advertising. The Federal Election Commission would oversee enforcement of the Act.

The “findings” section of the bill lays out the case for why such measures are needed, providing important context that would likely be used if the enacted bill were ever challenged in court. The findings include direct quotes from Professor Cohen’s work on how digital communications flows can be used to manipulate individual behavior and emotion:

“A forthcoming publication by Julie E. Cohen titled ‘‘Between Truth 15 and Power’’ describes the phenomenon as follows: ‘

‘The operation of the digital information environment has begun to mimic the operation of the collection of brain structures that mid-twentieth-century neurologists christened the limbic system and that play vital roles in a number of precognitive functions, including emotion, motivation, and habit-formation,’’ and observed that ‘‘today’s networked information flows are optimized to produce what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls instrumentarian power: They employ a radical behaviorist approach to human psychology to mobilize and reinforce patterns of motivation, cognition, and behavior that operate on automatic, near-instinctual levels and that may be manipulated instrumentally’’.”

The Voter Privacy Act in one of several bills Senator Feinstein has introduced in an effort to respond to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Other bills include the Prevention of Foreign Interference with Elections Act, the Bots Disclosure and Accountability Act and the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act.

It has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.