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The election’s impact on big tech, part III

Privacy/Encryption VS Government Surveillance/Civil Liberties


Internet security/encryption and concerns about surveillance/civil liberties are inextricably interlinked. A worldwide debate is now taking center stage over how to establish the right balance between these two often-conflicting requirements.

While we all want personal and national security against cyber crime and large-scale attacks on our public/private institutions and infrastructure, we at the same time want protection of our privacy and civil liberties. How this tug of war plays out in the U.S. will be an important dynamic in shaping the Trump legacy.

  • On the one hand, encryption of data is the best, most accessible method for protecting privacy. If encryption isn’t secure, an authoritarian government can easily surveil its citizens and undermine civil liberties. This concern is the crux of debates in Germany, Britain and France because of rising concern throughout Europe that right wing nationalist parties may come to power in the next election cycle with the express or unspoken goal of undermining individual liberties. However, because terrorist attacks remain an imminent threat throughout the region, it’s unlikely that cyber security measures will be diluted. –U.S. civil libertarians have raised similar concerns about the coming Trump Administration’s likely expansion of national security policies.
  • On the other hand, encrypted devices have been used repeatedly by terrorists to plan and execute crimes against humanity. Since 9/11, those concerns have been the strongest determiner of legislation. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to draw a clear line between ‘wide net security surveillance’ to protect us from attack and what constitutes an unjustified intrusion into a citizen’s right to privacy.



Political conflicts over encryption date back to the 1990s. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a strong Trump ally, advocates legalizing government backdoor access to encrypted devices. Silicon Valley Big Tech will vigorously oppose the likely move to pass such legislation in 2017. To date, a coalition of Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House of Representatives has successfully resisted efforts to expand government surveillance.

We’ll soon know if that coalition holds when NSA’s Foreign Intelligence Security Act comes up for re-authorization next year. If surveillance is broadened, critics claim this could lead U.S. business to relocate their data offshore to avoid NSA intrusion and even discourage other countries from doing business with us.

In response to these developments, Big Tech companies and private citizens are already expanding their promotion and use of end-to-end encryption–in many different forms, including high-rated apps like Silent Phone, Telegram, Text Secure and Signal (Clinton campaign staff started using this app during the recent campaign after Russian hackers accessed DNC and the candidate’s personal files). It’s important to understand that messaging apps like these aren’t limited to texting, but include file sharing, sensitive business and government information, etc. Look for still more encryption services to come to market in the years ahead.

Civil liberties/Surveillance

Donald Trump is the self-proclaimed law and order candidate. He also railed against immigrants, Muslims and other minorities. So, will he follow through, for example, on placing some U.S., mosques under surveillance or maintaining a national database of our Muslim citizens?

We may never know the scope of the security initiatives he will launch because of the secrecy surrounding NSA activities since the Patriot Act was passed after 9-11. Many of Edward Snowden’s revelations, at first doubted, now seem on target in underscoring the staggering scope of data the NSA and other Homeland Security agencies keep on American citizens, foreign leaders and others around the world.

During the past eight years, Obama has continued to exercise his Homeland Security powers without undermining the support of the American people. However, IF Trump were to expand them to snoop on Americans not suspected of any legal wrongdoing would we know? Who, in addition, would be targeted? Members of the Press and other Media? Politicians who oppose his agenda? Would some of them be found guilty of ‘crimes’ and be imprisoned? We can only hope that such developments will never happen in this country. However, this same sequence of events has unfolded in Russia and in countries that have voted in authoritarian regimes.

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