Obama’s Telling Assault Against Personal Privacy
~Lee Bellinger, Publisher
The Obama Administration’s assault on privacy is occurring on so many fronts that it is difficult to keep up with all the skirmishes. Let me share with you one example of over-reaching that has (thankfully) been pushed back for the moment.
Under pressure from privacy groups and in the wake of embarrassing publicity, the Obama Department of Justice has backed off its position that it can retrieve and read the email of any U.S. citizen without a court order.
A major privacy coalition had formed to oppose this latest power-grab which had been directed at Yahoo by the Obama Justice Department. The coalition includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and even Google. (Google executives are not known for their concern about privacy, but this Obama Administration move has even gotten their hackles up.)
Privacy Advocates Note the Federal Assault Against Personal Sovereignty
The privacy coalition warned in a friend-of-the-court brief: “Society expects and relies on the privacy of email messages just as it relies on the privacy of the telephone system… the largest email services are popular precisely because they offer huge amounts of computer disc space in the ‘Internet cloud’ within which users can warehouse their emails for perpetual storage.”
Unfortunately, this “step back” by the federal government was the consequence of bad publicity, not a true change of heart.
Which means almost certainly they will try again, potentially in the following scenarios:
In the wake of another terrorism crisis;
By inserting and burying the necessary legal language into a must-pass piece of future legislation;
By quietly forcing Google and Yahoo to cede to government demands to root through emails through regulatory, financial, or other form of pressure — such as giving one competitor an advantage over another based on compliance;
Embracing international covenants, agreements, or treaties which “require” the U.S. government to snoop through private emails; A combination of options 1-4 listed above.
CNET News writer Declan McCullagh noted another trend on April 21: “Internet service providers could become copyright cops encouraged to block access to suspected pirate web sites,” according to a proposed digital copyright treaty.
To date, both the Bush and Obama Administration have resisted efforts by civil libertarians to obtain disclosure of secret protocols buried in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
In 2009, the Obama White House invoked an executive order saying disclosure of certain provisions of ACTA would do “damage to national security.” The core of this digital copyright treaty is to extend legal immunity to Internet Service Providers which agree to “disable access” to websites the government says are not approved.
These developments should be a warning to all of us. The existence of secret protocols enabling government bureaucrats to shut down web sites at will, combined with Justice Department attempts to gain blanket access to emails, are part of a disturbing trend.
Make no mistake – in today’s high tech world, extraordinary vigilance is warranted to guard your privacy.