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The Politics of Privacy in 2014

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

Though it’s not a presidential election year, 2014 looks to have some important campaigns here in the States. House Republicans will try to bolster their majority, while Democrats hope to maintain their hold on the Senate. Even some in Kentucky are looking to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Of course, campaigns will run on a lot of the typically partisan issues—you know, taxes, gun control, same-sex marriage, global warming, Duck Dynasty or legalized marijuana.

But a new issue is making its way into campaign platforms and partisan politics: privacy.

Up here in Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is due for reelection. Though she’s a powerhouse—and many, but not all, would say moderate—Republican in this state, she’s being challenged by Democrat Shenna Bellows (D-ME). Former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Maine, Bellows has been raising campaign money. Daily Kos recently posted this e-mail it received from her Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

Just yesterday, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has a secret hacking program that "infiltrates computers around the world." Snowden's revelation is huge, and yet Congress is doing nothing.

If we're going to end the NSA's abuses, we need to elect people who are actually committed to ending unconstitutional surveillance. Enter Shenna Bellows—former Executive Director of ACLU Maine who is running against fake "moderate" Republican Susan Collins for U.S. Senate.

Bellows has had some privacy successes in her state. She organized a campaign to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to searching a suspect’s cellphone, promulgated opposition to drone surveillance and, while serving as a national field organizer at the ACLU in Washington, called for a repeal of the USA PATRIOT Act. When she launched her campaign last October, she declared:

We need to repeal the Patriot Act and REAL ID.

We need to stop the NSA and the FBI from wasting their time and taxpayer dollars spying on ordinary Americans through our cellphones and e-mail.

We need to place limits on drones.

In addition to backing NSA reform, she’s called Edward Snowden a whistleblower, not a criminal.

Now whether you agree or not that the NSA needs to be reformed or that Edward Snowden is a hero rather than a traitor is one thing, but this campaign is clearly one more example of how important privacy is becoming to the masses. True, a Bellows triumph over the stalwart Collins is certainly a longshot, but can we imagine privacy being such a front-and-center Senate campaign issue just five years ago?

And privacy isn’t just making its way into campaign platforms. It’s getting into partisan politics. Take the latest plan from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). According to Talking Points Memo:

For their first Obamacare act of 2014, House Republicans intend to vote on legislation aimed at cracking down on potential security breaches of personal information online.

In a new memo to GOP members that was provided to TPM, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) outlined his plan to bring up a bill designed "to strengthen security requirements as well as require prompt notification in the event of a breach involving personal information."

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is THE most radioactive issue in U.S. politics right now, and to combat it, Republicans are using data privacy to move legislation. As of right now, current law mandates that the administration decides whether “a risk of harm exists” in a breach of data “and if individuals need to be notified.” With Social Security numbers, income and contact information among requirements in the enrollment mix, privacy protection is certainly a must, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has also weighed in, calling the proposal “partisan and ideological games” over the health mandate.

In October, I wrote about Watergate stereotypes and wondered aloud if privacy is becoming a politically charged topic. With continued revelations out of the Snowden camp about pervasive surveillance, huge breaches like last month’s Target incident or the Snapchat snafu, not to mention the investigatory spotlight being shined on the data broker industry, 2014 may well show how charged a political topic privacy can become.

More from Jedidiah Bracy

About the Author

As editor of the Privacy Perspectives, Jedidiah Bracy moderates the many views, angles and, well, perspectives that inform information privacy and all its adjacent professions.

In addition to editing the Privacy Perspectives, Bracy facilitates the vetting, writing, editing and curation for the Daily Dashboard, the IAPP Canada Dashboard Digest, the IAPP Europe Data Protection Digest and the IAPP ANZ Dashboard Digest. He writes feature articles for The Privacy Advisor on information privacy law, data protection and the privacy profession.

When not mulling over the current state of information privacy in the digital age, Bracy enjoys watching international soccer, listening to his music library and tasting a finely wrought craft beer. You can follow him @jedbracy

See all posts by Jedidiah Bracy

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