Privacy SOS

The GOP platform and civil liberties

The Republican party issued its official platform for the RNC 2012. A number of statements are relevant to the Privacy Matters we discuss here, so let's take a look. 

The First and the Fourth

On the First Amendment: The GOP statement on the First Amendment is mostly about freedom of religion, but there is a smaller section on speech, which is mostly about campaign donations.

The last sentence on the First Amendment says: "...we oppose governmental censorship of speech through the so-called Fairness Doctrine or by government enforcement of speech codes, free speech zones, or other forms of “political correctness” on campus." (Note: The City of Tampa imposed serious restrictions on speech in advance of the RNC.)

On the Fourth Amendment: "Affirming “the right of the people to be secure in their houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” we support pending legislation to prevent unwarranted or unreasonable governmental intrusion through the use of aerial surveillance or flyovers on U.S. soil, with the exception of patrolling our national borders. All security measures and police actions should be viewed through the lens of the Fourth Amendment; for if we trade liberty for security, we shall have neither."

These fine words suggest either a Constitutional turn within the GOP or that there is great distance between the official party policy and the voting habits of its members. Republican officials in Congress, like their Democratic colleagues, have over the past ten years overwhelmingly supported many of the most serious legislative attacks on the Fourth Amendment, including notably awful statutes like the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 — which granted immunity to the telecoms involved in NSA warrantless wiretapping and created broad loopholes to skirt basic Fourth Amendment protections.

On Internet Freedom

The GOP says: "The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power."

"We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties; the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector." 

The GOP is right to say that our data must receive full constitutional protection, but there is a role for the government to play in ensuring that happens. The government makes the law, and the law in this regard is woefully outdated. Congress needs to pass an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), signed into law in 1986 — before mobile phones and the internet practically existed, and well before our most personal information was digitized and collated in government databases. 

The lofty statements about personal data protection above are also somewhat at odds with the party's position on cybersecurity law:

"The government collects valuable information about potential threats that can and should be shared with private entities without compromising national security. We believe that companies should be free from legal and regulatory barriers that prevent or deter them from voluntarily sharing cyberthreat information with their government partners."


"Protecting Travelers and their Rights: Reforming the TSA for Security and Privacy: While the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks brought about a greater need for homeland security, the American people have already delivered their verdict on the Transportation Security Administration: its procedures – and much of its personnel – need to be changed. It is now a massive bureaucracy of 65,000 employees who seem to be accountable to no one for the way they treat travelers. We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking."

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror

In the "Strengthing Ties in the Americas" section of the platform, the party states:

"The war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise."

I agree. We diverge when it comes to prescriptions for how to deal with this "enterprise." The platform goes on:

"We salute our allies in this fight, especially the people of Mexico and Colombia. We propose a unified effort on crime and terrorism to coordinate intelligence and enforcement among our regional allies, as well as military-to-military training and intelligence sharing with Mexico, whose people are bearing the brunt of the drug cartels’ savage assault."

Like with the war on drugs, there doesn't appear to be very much daylight separating the Republican and Democratic party positions on core legal issues related to the war on terror. Both parties seem to approve of extrajudicial assassinations absent due process of law. There is scant partisan disagreement about the domestic war on terror legal framework that grants the federal government immense power to spy on and imprison both US citizens and foreigners, again absent due process or judicial oversight. 

The GOP states:

"Our country and its way of life have enemies both abroad and within our shores. We affirm the need for our military to protect the nation by finding and capturing our enemies and the necessity for the President to have the tools to deal with these threats. As history has sadly shown, even our fellow citizens may rarely become enemies of their country. Nevertheless, our government must continue to ensure the protections under our Constitution to all citizens, particularly the rights of habeas corpus and due process of law."

The last two sentences are confusing. Does the GOP oppose the National Defense Authorization Act that grants the government the authority to imprison citizens absent due process? Is the party saying that it agrees with the Obama administration about the legal authority to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, because he was an accused terrorist? Or is it asserting that habeas corpus rights trump this supposed threat? 

Dennis Kucinich and Raul Grijalva, both Democrats, have introduced legislation stating that "no one, including the President, may instruct a person acting within the scope of employment with the United States government…to engage in, or conspire to engage in, the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen."

I suppose we will have to wait and see if the GOP supports the bill.

Next week the Democrats release their party platform for 2012. Check back then for updates on what the Democrats have to say about these vital privacy matters.

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