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Electronic signatures and democratic campaigns

Electronic signatures and democracy

What are e-signatures?

Electronic signatures or e-signatures are commonly used to verify consent - consent to contact, consent to accept, consent to contract, etc - for organizations around the world. When a parcel is delivered, you are usually asked to give your e-signature on a handheld device to the delivery person. This verifies your consent to accept the parcel and completes the obligations of the delivery company. However, electronic signatures are used in many other aspects of business and civic life, from confirming contracts to capturing consent to contact. It is this aspect of e-signatures that is so important now in underpinning democratic politics in Europe.

Capturing consent with electronic signatures

Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May 2018 organizations, including political ones such as political parties, are now obliged to have a legal basis for holding personally identifiable data about any individual. So for a political party that wants to build an ongoing relationship with a supporter or member, they now need to have that person’s consent to contact them. This consent needs to be clearly captured and a proof of that available in the case of a data protection audit. This is where electronic signatures come in as capturing consent can sometimes be done online through an email subscriber process, but it also needs to be done in the real world, face-to-face, during the course of normal political operations. Capturing consent by e-signature when out in the community, canvassing door-to-door, or at community meetings is now an essential part of the political process in a post-GDPR Europe. Let’s take a look at a few use-cases.

Political organizations and e-signatures

Political parties are highly motivated to build relationships with voters in the community. Primarily they want to have an active grassroots membership to sustain the party in every constituency, but they also want to have relationships with non-active citizens who might be willing to vote for the party at election time. In the past, this relationship building was fairly straightforward to do as there weren’t such heavy restrictions on holding citizen data. This allowed parties to have voter databases in every constituency and in head office that were built upon from year to year. These databases were stored in all manner of locations like desktops, filling cabinets and cloud-based systems. They represented the entire basis for the relationships with citizens and grassroots members.That way of doing things has been changed utterly by GDPR and consent must now be attached to every voter record if personally identifiable data is held (such as name, address, email, phone number, etc).
Using mobile technology political parties are now able to capture consent from citizens with e-signature. In this way grassroots activists ican begin to rebuild those databases and those relationships.

Activist groups and electronic signatures

Activist groups, issue groups and advocacy organizations can be seen to do similar work to political parties in terms of building relationships in the community. The success or otherwise of an activist group is determined by the extent of engagement they get from citizens and although a lot of that engagement is initiated through social media, face-to-face engagement forms a key part of the solidifying an organization’s long term survival. With this in mind, we are seeing activist groups employing similar mobile technology to political parties to capture consent to contact and build a supporter database. A database of supporters forms the spine of an activist group and provides the bodies needed to run basic operations like managing social media accounts, setting up events and driving further engagement in the community. Without this e-signature consent, activist groups will have to rely on social media to mobilise people in their communities.

Future engagement

Digital signatures are commonplace now for capturing consent but what does the future hold for organizations looking to ensure an audit trail around interactions? Blockchain’s promised land of distributed ledger systems and immutable records are being employed by national governments to improve land registry’s and by industries like banking to strengthen the security of transaction records. It is possible that e-signatures could be captured on blockchain systems and therefore provide a secure record of consent given. Indeed, the battle between data protection advocates and those companies that seek to exploit the value in owning and using people’s digital records is only set to hot-up over the coming years. In this context, electronic signatures as a way of giving consent to contact will form the bedrock of a lot of people’s interactions with organisational entities, and none more so than political organisations.

If you would like to learn more about how to use electronic signatures in your political operations and the advantages of managing your voter database with data privacy in mind then why not talk to us today?

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