What does Donald Trump mean for the people’s privacy? This is a question asked, but not answered. America’s 56th presidential election has left the world reeling and to swallow the bitter pill of uncertainty. With the President-elect almost reinventing himself during his victory speech, everyone is questioning his policies ahead of his inauguration.
So what can we learn from the past?
The President-elect has supported the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk phone metadata collection, revealing a year ago that surveillance came before privacy when it came to collecting data. After Apple Vs FBI, when Apple refused to write code to hack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, Trump suggested an Apple boycott to the public.
Of course, this was completely undermined by Trump tweeting after this statement from an iPhone. Then later being photographed behind a MacBook Pro.
So ‘yes’ means ‘no’ and ‘up’ means ‘down’ in Donald J. Trump’s world – perhaps this was an insight to his current identity crisis.
To add to these positions, Trump has deemed the profiling of American Muslims “common sense”, and suggested that mosques ought to be under surveillance.
“I err on the side of security.” – Donald J. Trump
Investigating a little further back into Republican government, Timothy Edgar, director of law at Brown University and ex-Director of Privacy and Civil Liberties in Obama’s White House, has predicted Trump’s pro-surveillance stance.
“Republicans typically show little sympathy on the matter… I would say pretty much any attempts to reform will come to a screeching halt, and maybe it will go backwards.”
What is the present privacy climate?
However, it’s no secret that privacy advocates haven’t been satisfied with the Obama administration. Edward Snowden revealed the full extent of the US government’s surveillance of American and global citizens, causing global outrage. Obama renewed the controversial Patriot Act in 2011, despite his previous stance that it infringed the population’s privacy rights. The whistle was blown by Edward Snowden in 2013 on the NSA’s mass surveillance programme, and Obama was forced to dial back surveillance activities.
However, Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, of the American Civil Liberties Union, has spoken a warning of the current presidential powers.
“The danger of the aggregation of executive power we have seen over the last decade is that we might have an executive who is not worthy of that trust. This has been a trend in the US but there has been a weakening of constitutional oversight during the growth of the national security state.”
“I think many Americans are waking up to the fact we have created a presidency that is too powerful.” – Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden’s lawyer at director at the American Civil Liberties Union
John Napier Tye, a whistleblower in 2014 and ex-state department official, has also surveyed the weaknesses in current privacy policies.
“Obama and Bush could have set the best possible privacy protections in place, but the trouble is, it’s all set by executive order, not statute. So Trump could revise the executive order as he pleases. And since it’s all done in secret, unless you have someone willing to break the law to tell you that it happened, it’s not clear the public will ever learn it did. Consider that even now, the American people still do not know how much data on US persons the NSA actually collects.”
The crystal ball is murkier than ever – what does the future hold for privacy in the US?
A major turning point will be in December 2017, when the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 will expire. This legislation enables the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program. Using data taken from the tech giants, “it specifically authorises intelligence agencies to monitor the phone, email, and other communications of US citizens for up to a week without obtaining a warrant, provided one of the parties to the communications is outside the US” Neil McAllister reports.
But the tech giants haven’t been willing to sit back and allow this use of data. Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, has told Reuters that the instant messaging company will be “extremely vocal” against efforts to allow the government to get past encryption and other data protection measures. The CEO has cited concerns for American companies’ reputations as the reason for this.
This sort of opposition is a consensus in the tech industry, indicating a war effort on their part to secure privacy rights. Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith has already addressed the issues between Trump and tech companies, and urged a future strategy of unification in his blog post.
“It will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time.
As this election demonstrated, technology now plays a ubiquitous role in our daily lives. But people will not use technology they do not trust.” – Brad Smith, President at Microsoft
These debates are likely to continue, unless Trump pulls off his attempt at unifying the divided American nation. But, it is hard to predict the future. “Nobody knows what he’ll do. I don’t know if his past statements should be taken as gospel or if it’s more about emotions.” Jay Edelson, an attorney and CEO of law firm Edelson PC commented.
Political power problems ahead?
As Forrester’s data protection report has found, countries are seeking surveillance powers which conflict with privacy rights. We can see a similar cause rising in the US – Trump has no concerns with renewing the Patriot Act, which affects both foreign and American citizens.
When Donald Trump reminisced of the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email server, he spoke thus:
“I wish I had that power…Man, that would be power.”
And he’s got it.
Source: The Political Insider