Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's In The Fine Print

Toronto's Globe and Mail published a story March 23rd full of interesting Robocall nuggets in their ongoing investigation.

It included some of the nuts and bolts about the so-called Pierre Poutine activity at RackNine and how he contacted the company to set up the calling account.

One of the interesting revelations is that there was a second call that was erased but then recovered by RackNine that was "to dial Guelph, Ont., voters in the middle of the night with a fake message from the local Liberal campaign". For some reason the call was never sent to the couple thousand numbers uploaded into the system. The caller ID programmed into the call would have shown the Liberal candidate's phone number as the originating caller, and would have given a fake 1-800 number for Elections Canada.

Something I found more interesting and was left hanging in the article was the following:

According to the new filings, Matt Meier, the CEO of the Alberta firm used to make the robo-calls, also told Elections Canada that “Pierre” initially telephoned him directly on his unlisted office extension and asked for him by name when setting up his robo-calling account.

“Pierre referred to knowing someone in the Conservative Party,” Mr. Mathews said of the call Mr. Meier received at RackNine. “In Meier’s view, these facts mean someone must have given Pierre his contact information.”

Mr. Meier told Elections Canada his contract with the Conservative Party during the 2011 election campaign stipulated he would “not provide his calling service to other parties.”

I found that last paragraph the most interesting. RackNine had an exclusive contract with the Conservative Party of Canada in the 2011 election. That means that doing work for any other party or their operatives would be a breach of contract and subject to a lawsuit.

There is nothing in the article (and articles do not report everything) to explain how RackNine satisfied itself that the fictitious Pierre Poutine (who used the less laughable name Pierre Jones) was someone authorized to use RackNine's exclusively Conservative political "super weapon". Aside from “Pierre referred to knowing someone in the Conservative Party,” and that Pierre had RackNine's CEO's name and number, what other measures were taken to ensure RackNine was not breaching its exclusive contract to the CPC? None are mentioned.

The materials filed by Elections Canada also say that: 'RackNine also told Elections Canada that the operative had identified himself as a University of Ottawa student studying by correspondence and located in Joliette." Still no mention of how Pierre Jones/Poutine satisfied RackNine that he was authorized by the CPC to use the system as part of its exclusive agreement.

I'm sure RackNine takes its legal obligations seriously, especially when dealing with a good customer like the hyper-controlling Conservative election machine. A potential breach of contract with the CPC by allowing access to persons of unknown (or at least unproven) political allegiance is something that requires at least one more question to be asked, specifically:

"Thanks for the call Mr. Jones/Poutine. Who exactly in the Conservative Party - with whom I have an exclusive contract - has authorized your use of my election services? Of course I'll be calling them to check and make sure I'm not breaching my exclusive contract with one of my biggest clients."

Was this done? There's no indication in the article that the super-sensitive services were provided on any more than name-dropping and having dialed the CEO's direct line. How does this square with the fine print exclusivity clause of the RackNine service contract? I don't know.

Maybe someone will ask when Elections Canada reports to MPs on March 29th. Hopefully they asked RackNine to fill in the blanks better than reported above.

RackNine is not under investigation itself by Elections Canada.