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Presidential candidates' Web sites fail privacy test

Only 2 out of the top 11 presidential candidates have privacy statements on the front pages of their Web sites as of late August, according to a study by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

    For presidential candidates, there really is no such thing as privacy. But the same could be true for unwitting visitors to their Web sites, according to a new study.

    Many White House contenders are using the Web to rustle up volunteers, campaign contributions, and suggestions. But with all the personal information they are collecting, only 2 out of the top 11 candidates have privacy statements on the front pages of their Web sites as of late August, according to a new study by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a nonprofit public policy group.

    "Many of the candidates have discussed the importance of privacy for the future," Ari Schwartz, CDT's policy analyst, said in a statement. "But their actions within their own campaign speak louder than their words."

    Representatives for the candidates could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Numerous Congress members, the Clinton administration, and the European Union have called for Web sites to disclose their data collection practices and clearly state to users how their sensitive personal data will be used.

    Now CDT is calling on presidential hopefuls to do the same. Citing its report, A First Test: The Candidates and Their Privacy Policies, the CDT sent letters to the candidates today calling for a swift change in protocol.

    Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) both have posted privacy policies on their Web sites. That is not surprising; Gore has pushed a so-called electronic bill of rights to ensure better privacy protections in the digital age. And as chair of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, McCain has been a gatekeeper for most Net-related proposals that pass through Congress.

    But others are falling short, according to CDT.

    The group gave the following Republicans "F" grades for the absence of a privacy statement on their sites: Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, George W. Bush, Elizabeth Dole, Alan Keyes, and Dan Quayle.

    Candidate Steve Forbes got a "B" for mentioning privacy on his volunteer page and posting a policy on his contribution section. And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) landed a "B+" for the privacy statement on his volunteer and donation pages. But Democrat Bill Bradley got only a "C+" for the sole privacy policy found on his volunteer page.

    "Election law requires that donors giving over $200 to a campaign be reported, so the Web sites ask for name, address, employer, and occupation, as well as credit card number for online contributions, and often other information," the report states.

    "In the past, however, campaigns have been accused of selling or trading the names and information of their contributors and volunteers for purposes unrelated to the explicit reason for which this information was collected," the study continues. "Therefore, the candidates' respect for the privacy of campaign volunteers and donors is an early test of their policy, perhaps indicating how high a priority privacy would be in the candidate's administration."

    The group wants candidates to let Web users know whether they intend to sell or share the data collected about volunteers and donors; to let visitors indicate whether they want their data shared; and to give individuals access to their personal information held by the campaign to correct inaccuracies.