Privacy, Primaries, and the Politicians’ Positions

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

February 15, 2016

In this election year in the United States, there are many issues up for debate, and a powerful new constituency – the Millennials – on the rise. This voting block will surpass the political power of the baby boom generation for the first time. To them and other freedom lovers, no concerns may be more important than privacy and surveillance. With the introduction of so-called anti-establishment candidates, both on the Democratic left and the Republican right, distinct lines are often blurred. So that you may be a better- educated reader or a more informed potential voter, I will try to define the candidates’ position on these important topics. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, whether you’re entering the voting booth, or are just an interested observer.

Two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire, are in the books, and while it is still very early in the process, already the field has been winnowed a bit, which makes the job of scrutinizing candidates’ stances somewhat easier. March looms as a pivotal month for the would-be nominees, with about 60% of the votes needed for nomination up for grabs. By the end of that month, the path to the nominations will become clearer. Questions arise, to which voters should demand more clarity.

Do the candidates recognize the potential consequences of their policy decisions? Do they understand the technology, or are they merely front-persons, puppets for a corporate or government cause? Do their positions reflect the wishes, interests (and  dare I include the hopes!) of the majority of citizens? While the terrorist attacks in Paris were alarming, their impact was on Americans was limited because they occurred on foreign soil. But Americans were awakened from their slumber by the San Bernardino rampage, which similarly killed innocents and was executed by terrorist sympathizers. As a result, politicians have honed their rhetoric to meet what they feel is a seminal subject. How are they aligned and their arguments arrayed?

A good starting point is with each party’s present front-runners, who have many ideological differences (as you might imagine, a since one is left-leaning and the other bent to the right). They are, respectively, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They come from different political points of the spectrum. Clinton has been angling for the presidency for two decades, while Trump only relatively recently. So it’s not easy to find topics on which they agree, except on one subject – national security vis a vis digital privacy.

Both candidates say law enforcement must be given greater surveillance powers over online communications in order to help prevent another terrorist attack. Since each has the current edge in the race for their party’s nomination, this is unsettling news for civil libertarians. But, as mentioned, its still early in the game, and the nominations are up for grabs. A closer look at the contenders is thus warranted.

Ted Cruz, the anti-big government candidate, is consistent with his philosophy- at least as it applies to surveillance. Cruz opposed the many politicians in his own party who jumped aboard the greater government surveillance bandwagon in the wake of San Bernardino,m saying that,

When the focus of law enforcement and national security is on ordinary citizens rather than targeting the bad guy, we miss the bad guys while violating the constitutional rights of American citizens.

ted cruz

Donald Trump, meanwhile, in the aftermath of San Bernardino called fora ban on Muslims from entering  US, and further suggested that protecting America from similar attacks would require more surveillance powers. He believes, and no one really knows his basis for making the claim, that Americans “would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.” Additionally, he called for closing the internet to terrorists, as if that is at all practical or even possible in this day and age.

donald trump

Marco Rubio has long supported NSA surveillance powers, including bulk metadata collection authorized under the contentious Patriot Act. Moreover, he voted against the replacement legislation, the USA Freedom Act because he believes it impedes the ability of intelligence agencies to prevent terrorism.marco rubio

The USA Freedom Act signed into law earlier this year left our intelligence community with fewer tools to protect the American people.

Rubio claimed that gaps and vulnerabilities in the measure hindered law enforcement from properly prosecuting the war on terrorism.

Jeb Bush, as an establishment favorite, has attempted a balanced, nuanced posture. While not explicitly endorsing technology companies’ creation of backdoors for their encrypted products, he said that encryption makes it ’’harder for the American government to do its job….to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.” Bush decried the ’’unfair demonization”  of the NSA and FBI in their battle to secure the tools necessary to do a thorough job.

jeb bush

On the Democratic side, the lines are more clearly drawn,  the contrasts sharper. When you peel off the layers of spin, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee a few months ago, seeks to straddle the fence.

Hillary Clinton has been largely quiet about government surveillance, mainly as a reult of her being Secretary of State for the existing government apparatus. But as a Senator, she voted for the Patriot Act when it was initially passed in 2001, and again for its renewal in 2006. Clinton also harshly criticized NSA wistleblower Edward Snowden, saying that he should be’’ brought home to face the music.” More recently, she has continued to avoid being pigeon-holed on the issue of encryption, instead praising President Obama for engaging with Silicon Valley to enlist their support in the fight against terrorism.

hillary clinton

Bernie Sanders, perhaps refreshingly for Millennials, has been steadfast in his opposition to NSA surveillance, deeming it ’’Orwellian and clearly unconstitutional.” Therefore, it is unsurprising to learn that he voted against the Patriot Act both in 2001 and 2006, and disparaged the USA Freedom Act for not containing enough privacy protections. He has  exerted his wrath not just on the government, but also on private companies that he says are equally culpable in efforts to compromise personal privacy.

bernie sandersYou would all be amazed, or maybe not, about the amount of information private companies and the government has in terms of the websites that you access, the products that you buy, (even) where you are at this moment. I worry that we are moving to a type of Orwellian society, where Big Brother – whether in the corporate world or the government – knows too much about the private lives of innocent people.

So, as the primary season rolls on -(next stop South Carolina) curiously, the candidates most against government surveillance and in favor of personal privacy come from the far right and far left of the political divide – Cruz and Sanders. Of the two- in fact of all the candidates – Bernie Sanders is the most consistently for personal privacy and against government intrusion into our lives, and has been for the longest time. Perhaps for these reasons he has captured the imaginations of the Millennial (and even younger) voters. The question is: Will this enthusiasm be confirmed in the ballot box? Will  Millennials drag themselves to the polls on what might be a bleak November day to vote for their candidate of choice? Will you? We’ll have to wait and see.

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