The comments I most appreciate from readers are those that compliment me for being forthright. “Thanks for always calling it as you see it,” says James S., for example. “I get tired of people beating around the bush. Even if I don’t always agree with you, I appreciate your honesty.”
I’m going to be brutally honest today.
It saddens me when folks who express outrage about civil liberties abuses when the “other party” is in charge ignore them when “their” guy is in the Oval Office. Democrats did this shamelessly, ignoring all the ways Obama continued George W. Bush’s policies on domestic spying and other abuses.
On the other hand, many of us rightly expressed outrage at the wanton abuses of our constitutional rights by the NSA, CIA, FBI, Treasury and other departments under Obama. Now we’ve got a president-elect who promises to double down on all of that. Will we ignore it like the Democrats did?
I, for one, will not. Principle knows no party. And you shouldn’t ignore it either … no matter what your other views.
No Friend of Privacy
Leave aside, for the moment, your feelings about the president-elect’s broader agenda. Focus on his intentions regarding privacy and free speech. After all, Trump has warned that “certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country,” including policies that “were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
President-elect Trump has never expressed any interest in protecting individual liberties. Quite the opposite. For example, he has openly threatened press freedom. He promises to “close the Internet up,” noting, “Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.”
He’s said he’d call Bill Gates to find out how to “turn off the Internet” — and if the Microsoft founder declined to help, he’d ask Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping. But there’s no need: Section 606 of the Communications Act of 1934 gives Trump emergency powers to seize all domestic communications facilities if he declares a “war or threat of war” or “a state of public peril.” It’s entirely his call.
The president-elect is gung-ho on the Patriot Act and intends to roll back restrictions on the use of our private communications metadata by intelligence and security agencies. He vocally supported the FBI over Apple in the “backdoor software” iPhone case earlier this year, calling for a boycott of the firm. He is likely to favor mandatory snooping backdoors for all hardware and software sold in the U.S.
Personnel Is Policy
We could write this off as bluster. But Trump’s choices for key intelligence and security portfolios suggest he is quite serious.
For example, incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo has said that minor post-Snowden NSA reforms should be repealed immediately; total surveillance of the entire country should be the norm. Indeed, he regards anyone who takes steps to protect their communications as suspect: “[T]he use of strong encryption in personal communications is a red flag,” he says.
Then there’s Trump’s proposed national security adviser. General Michael Flynn thinks the Patriot Act didn’t go far enough. Like Pompeo, he is on record as favoring a dramatic expansion of domestic surveillance. If FBI Director James Comey stays on under Trump, he will finally get his wish to expand “general warrant” electronic searches, warrantless wiretapping, national security letters and other constitutional sidestepping.
And don’t expect any help from the Justice Department. Proposed Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also resolutely anti-privacy, on the grounds of our “safety.”
Don’t Make the Democrats’ Mistake
I know many people don’t want to hear this right now. “Give him a chance. He’s right on everything else so he’ll be on our side on this too. Besides, if you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about.”
That is precisely what loyal Democrats said about President Obama’s embrace of domestic spying, extrajudicial assassination and other Constitutional horrors. Because Democrats went along without complaint when “their guy” was in charge, Trump now has access to the massive U.S. surveillance apparatus and legal precedents that could be used to justify all sort of abuses.
And we should expect such abuses. After all, during the campaign, Trump openly looked forward to the power of surveillance. “I wish I had that power,” he said about political email hacking. “Man, that would be power.”
He now has it. And if he does use and expand it, it will be available to the president to follow him, Republican or Democrat.
YOU Control Your Destiny
Three years ago, Edward Snowden warned that “one day, a new leader will be elected” and “they’ll find the switch” to eliminate our electronic privacy.
That day has arrived.
Sensible people are already preparing. Swiss-based encrypted email provider ProtonMail says it has doubled the number of new accounts since Trump’s victory. The same goes for other non-U.S. privacy-oriented communications services like Signal and Telegram. Virtual private network (VPN) providers are reporting booming business.
Next week, I’m going to make specific recommendations to protect your privacy under this new environment. Remember, your privacy is an asset just like any other … and it’s under more threat now than ever.