There’s a huge battle brewing right now over our rights to privacy. It is widely agreed that the most effective tool to control the current and future pandemics is tracking software, easily installed on our phones. Some countries are moving ahead with the requirement to use this technology.The U.S. is likely to take eventually adopt similar measures. Right now it seems that most informed Republican Party legislators and those citizens who openly identify as capitalists then to support this technological step as a way to allow us to rebuild our economy. Progressives seem to mostly oppose the idea it as further invasion on our personal privacy. The battle is likely to be discussed in the upcoming campaigns and eventually wind up before the Supreme Court.
Perhaps one of the greatest differences between Biden and Trump – or between conservatives and progressives in general – is on the issue of consumer privacy in the digital age. Biden first came to national attention (in my mind and many others) as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that rejected Supreme Court nominee Justice Bork in 1987. Bork was a conservative justice who argued that the Constitution does not mention privacy issues and therefore we have no rights to presumed privacy. Biden rejected that view. Progressives like Biden (and me) believe that the Constitution must be interpreted in terms of changing times and technology.
Our rights to privacy were badly weakened after 9/11 when conservatives controlled federal government. Our rights to privacy continued to erode over the past 20 years under the FTC and NSA. I’ve often written in my blog that the belief that some of our online information is private is simply just a myth. Over the past two decades government contracted to work with companies like Facebook and Google to learn much more about us than most people imagine. In fact it is the collaboration between government and big data companies that led to the desperate point where we are today. Some of the last remaining rights were weakened further over the past three years by unpopular FCC actions endorsed by Trump officials. We, as U.S. citizens, are badly losing the battle for our privacy. We do not enjoy the privacy protections put in place in Europe and other modern nations. IMO, the only way to strengthen consumer privacy is to elect more progressive legislators and appoint more progressive justices that reject this dangerous concept of Constitutional originalism and embrace surveillance capitalism.
Let’s be clear: we are losing this battle for privacy. We can not expect that our personal information is private. We should expect that technology will continue to grow more intrusive. But that doesn’t mean that we should cave in to every issue. For example, the proposed expansion of required tracking software on our phones is not widely supported. The eventual result of this proposal will depend on the outcome of our 2020 elections.
NPR ran coverage of the battle for privacy this past weekend. The book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” is a great resource for more information on the battle for our privacy. I suspect that most people would be alarmed and outraged by learning more about how our government is handling this topic. I am writing this now because I hope that privacy rights become a major campaign issue.