11/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A "Personal" Invitation from Newt Gingrich

I just received a fax from Newt Gingrich inviting me to a private dinner at the National Republican Club of Capital Hill in Washington on October 7th. The fax is from Joe Gaylord, actually, whose political consulting company is obviously working to support Newt's bid for the Presidency when the campaign season roles around next, which I guess is now.

Evidently, Joe Gaylord and I have met along the way because he uses my first name, Jarvis, in the fax. I don't remember that meeting. I also don't remember entering into an "established business relationship" (EBR) with Joe or his consulting company, Chesapeake Associates, or, for that matter, Newt, which is the requirement the FCC makes of anyone using a facsimile (fax) machine to send unsolicited emails. To wit (from the FCC web site):

Amended Fax Rules and Established Business Relationship Exemption

The rules provide that it is unlawful to send unsolicited advertisements to any fax machine, including those at both businesses and residences, without the recipient's prior express invitation or permission. Fax advertisements, however, may be sent to recipients with whom the sender has an EBR, as long as the fax number was provided voluntarily by the recipient.

I did not provide the fax number voluntarily -- that is, I don't think so, unless I was drunk one night, in which case it's possible Joe and I could have met then and that he asked me for my fax number at the end of the evening.

But, there's more from the FCC site:

Specifically, a fax advertisement may be sent to an EBR customer if the sender also:

obtains the fax number directly from the recipient, through, for example, an application, contact information form, or membership renewal form; or obtains the fax number from the recipient's own directory, advertisement, or site on the Internet, unless the recipient has noted on such materials that it does not accept unsolicited advertisements at the fax number in question; or has taken reasonable steps to verify that the recipient consented to have the number listed, if obtained from a directory or other source of information compiled by a third party.

If the sender had an EBR with the recipient and possessed the recipient's fax number before July 9, 2005 (the date the Junk Fax Prevention Act became law), the sender may send the fax advertisements without demonstrating how the number was obtained.

That will be it then: I'm a registered Republican. By the FCC's standards, my declared party affiliation would constitute an EBR. But Joe Gaylord still had to connect a lot of dots to send me my personalized fax. He had to connect my name and party affiliation that I provide presumably where I vote (home) with a fax number at my company address. I'm not sure how he did that. A quick scan of our corporate web site, and I can't find our fax number. And I haven't really been that drunk since, or before, 2005 when the regulations changed such that I wouldn't remember a stranger asking me for my fax number.

Honestly, I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this. It's fine, really. I understand everybody's doing their job and Joe is not stalking me and Newt isn't going to notice when I don't show-up at the party in October and no hard feelings all the way around. It's marketing. Presidential politics is big business.

But I work in the online advertising sector which has been the poster child for privacy advocates. That's a miscalculation, I believe, that fails to recognize we remain far more vulnerable to invasions of personal space offline.

We have privacy rules offline. As we've just demonstrated, those rules are porous. I'm not sure I'd advocate changing them for the reasons that commerce -- including Presidential commerce -- might be severely disrupted, but I have never had the occasion to take personal offense to online advertising as much as I have to Joe Gaylord's flippant fax invitation.

Shredding Joe's invitation will take only a fraction longer than deleting unwanted emails, or navigating away from irritating online advertisements. I'll still be left with the bad taste in my mouth that he called me Jarvis and treated me like an idiot, which is really the penalty of bad marketing, not poor privacy regulations. Mostly, however, I'll be left with the feeling that comes from knowing you're surrounded by pretense; that you are involved in a charade; that when the email finally comes from the Cabinet Secretary of the Homeland Department of Privacy it will begin, "Dear Jarvis."