Trump, Privacy, and Anonymous

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

March 16, 2016

The self-proclaimed vigilante group, Anonymous, has served notice on Republican front-running candidate Donald Trump that it plan to target him and hold him to account for his fiery bombastic rhetoric and actions.  More on this later, but this intrusion by Anonymous, a cybersecurity nemesis, into the fray, points to some often overlooked topics in these primary contests – privacy, surveillance and cybersecurity.


A worthwhile exercise might therefore be to explore the privacy-related stance of Donald Trump, which has raised Anonymous’ hackles. Up until now, Cybersecurity and privacy haven’t grabbed a whole lot of attention, and average voters seem to know little about these important issues. So, this area invites investigation and closer scrutiny.

Trump said many Americans “would be willing to give up some privacy in order to be safer.” He also called for “closing that internet up,” and for keeping terrorist groups such as Islamic State from using “our internet”. In typical “Trumpian” style, the candidate has at once minimized the scope of the controversy, while at the same time demonstrating his poor grasp of technical details.

Exactly how much privacy people are willing to give up, or who these are folks are, is not revealed. And, when he alludes to “our internet”, to whom is he referring – Americans, Republicans of his ilk,? Those few words go a long way in illustrating his myopic take on thorny and complex issues.

Donald Trump

While, thankfully, backing down from his previous statement regarding Muslim mosques that he would “strongly consider” shutting them all down, Trump instead said he favors “surveillance of certain mosques,” claiming such surveillance has occurred before for other houses of worship. That the meeting places of suspected radicals have long been monitored is an undeniable sordid fact, but snooping on mosques is another story, and raises constitutional questions that even Trump can’t ignore or circumvent.

The current migration of refugees, too, has played nicely into Trump’s hand, and parlayed with recent terrorist attacks on US soil (notably in San Bernardino, CA ), this resonates with his supporters. Hence, the attack on privacy should be, according to him, extended to those who would enter the US. On this issue, Trump opined that,

I want surveillance. I will absolutely take a database on the people coming in from Syria. If we can’t stop it — but we are going to, if I win – they’re going back.

This assault on a convenient target resonates with his supporters who are more overwhelmingly white and less educated than other constituencies, but it doesn’t stop at just immigrants.

If it were up to the Donald, he would restore the draconian surveillance provisions in the Patriot Act that so many law-abiding US citizens found so onerous. Trump would call this, erring “on the side of security.”  He said that his view was not one of a Johnny-come-lately, but that his position in favour of NSA data collection has been the same since before the terrorist attacks in Paris, which stoked fears of international terrorism, and revived debate over government surveillance measures.  For him, the San Bernardino rampage is just the icing on the cake.

Trump is cavalier about telephone surveillance, and dismissive of those who protest government intrusions on communication,

“I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth. It’s a pretty sad commentary.”

Only he could call the surveillance “sad”, and in the next breath embrace and encourage it.  Trump said at the time that he would be “fine” with restoring provisions of the Patriot Act to allow for the bulk data collection, which is music to the ears of his core constituency.

Meanwhile,  the hacktivist group, Anonymous, disgusted by Trump’s actions and rhetoric – especially as it relates to Muslims – has declared “total war” on Donald’s campaign, vowing to take down his website and promote other such mischief on 1 April (April Fool’s Day). The group, a loose collective of hacktivists, routinely engages high-profile targets as part of its cyber-campaigns. It declared that,

“We need you to shut down his websites, to research and expose what he doesn’t want the public to know. We need to dismantle his campaign and sabotage his brand. We are encouraging every able person with a computer to participate in this operation. This is not a warning, this is a declaration of total war. Donald Trump – it is too late to expect us.”

Anonymous is hoping that by shutting down his cyber operations it will damage the Trump brand, and it will enable them to dig up material destructive to his campaign. Because his followers are so fiercely loyal, nothing so far has been able to derail the Trump express from steaming to the nomination.

The best that fearful, horrified, establishment Republicans can hope for is that John Kasich, the incumbent Ohio governor, ekes out a win in his home state’s primary today. That will slow Trump’s momentum and cause his campaign to get to the convention this summer without sufficient delegates to win on the first ballot. The hope for them is that reason will prevail and a mainstream, consensus candidate may emerge as the party’s standard-bearer (editors note: news in before this article was published shows that Kasich has indeed won the Ohio primary).

For what it’s worth, it should be noted that of the remaining candidates in either party, only Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have offered anything resembling an anti-mass surveillance stance. If the Republicans are knotted come summer, Cruz could well emerge as the nominee. On the other side, the likelihood of Sanders overcoming Hillary Clinton’s well-oiled machine with its lopsided plurality with super-delegates is slim, barring any legal entanglements could arise from her email debacle. All in all, it is not a very pretty picture for privacy.


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