What does a Trump vs Clinton fight for the US presidency mean for privacy?

The next US president looks set to be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – so what will be the implications for personal data privacy and surveillance whoever wins? Let’s have a look at their track records…

Donald Trump has strong and (from a UK viewpoint) often bizarre viewpoints on many things. There’s not much The Donald hasn’t opined on, and privacy and security are no different. And, as ever, he’s got an unusual take on things.

Back in September, for example, he said he was open to ‘closing parts of the internet down‘ to win the fight again Isis, which shows broad ambition and lateral thinking skills if not a huge amount of technical nous. The whole quote in full: “I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our internet.”

Following the attacks in Paris, he said that privacy rights in America were a lot stronger before: “Those privacy rights were a lot stronger three days ago than they are now,” he said. “I think a lot of people would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.”, while also alluding to his belief that surveillance had not stopped the attacks.

He also strongly criticised Apple for opposing the FBI’s ‘backdoor’ order, asking: “Who do they think they are? They have to open it up.

He added: “I agree 100 percent with the courts. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “I think security, overall, we have to open it up and we have to use our heads. We have to use common sense. Somebody the other day called me a common-sense conservative. We have to use common sense.”

He then – such a surprise! – went further, urging a boycott of Apple if they didn’t help the FBI. As Trump is apparently an iPhone user, it was unclear whether he planned to boycott himself – but thankfully (or not, depending on how you look at it), the FBI found another way in without the whole court battle/boycott having to play out.

But, we should also note at this point, he did say if elected he would close loopholes in federal law that allow student data mining.

Moving on to surveillance, Trump has declared himself “fine” with re-authorising the Patriot Act, coming out in favour of security over privacy and further admitting:”I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth.”

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is what we might term a more seasoned political operator, and for that reason her stances have been a little more, erm, cautious.

But she has strong opinions on Edward Snowden, stating during a democratic debate: “He broke the laws of the United States.

“He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”

Staying with Snowden, she has also said: “He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.” (athough subsequent press reports suggested he may not have been eligible for whistleblower protection)

On the NSA, which is synomymous with the Snowden revelations, particularly over the mass surveillance of civilians, she has been vaguer on her pronouncements, leading to the Atlantic to call her evasive, in an article in which they quoted her as saying: “Well, I think the NSA needs to be more transparent about what it is doing, sharing with the American people, which it wasn’t. And I think a lot of the reaction about the NSA, people felt betrayed. They felt, wait, you didn’t tell us you were doing this. And all of a sudden now, we’re reading about it on the front page…”

She was clear they had to act “lawfully”, but equally a lot of wiggle room was left there for her eventual position if she becomes the first US female president.

Speaking specifically about balancing the rights of privacy in reference to powers given to government agencies post 9/11, she said: “There’s no doubt we may have gone too far in a number of areas, and those [practices] have to be rethought and rebalanced”….adding:”I think it’s fair to say the Government, the NSA, didn’t so far as we know cross legal lines, but they came right up and sat on them.

“It could perhaps mean their data was being collected in metadata configurations, and that was somehow threatening. We have to be constantly asking ourselves what legal authorities we gave to the NSA and others and make sure people know what the tradeoffs are.”

On the FBI/Apple battle, for the record, she trod a careful middle line, saying: “I see both sides, and I think most citizens see both sides…We don’t want privacy and encryption destroyed, and we want to catch and make sure there’s nobody else out there whose information is on the cell phone of that killer.”

Of course, no look at Clinton and privacy is complete without a look at the curious affair of her use of her own private email server, which was used during her time as Secretary of State, in breach of normal protocol. Both she and the State Department have now released thousands of these emails in an effort to show (ironically) no breaches of security were made. A good look at the whole affair here.

So, essentially,  the ultimate future impact on privacy and surveillance is a difficult one to call at this stage, not least because we’re a long way off from the November contest and uber serious polling has yet to commence.

But we’re certainly in for interesting times, whoever wins. God Bless America!

 

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