Where Do the Presidential Candidates Stand on the Privacy vs. Security Debate?
By Doug Pollack - Article on February 10, 2016
- Cyber Security
- Data Breach Notification
- Data Privacy
- Legal and Regulatory
It’s not easy to find topics that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and billionaire Donald Trump agree on, but here’s one: Both say law enforcement must be given greater surveillance powers over online communications to help prevent the next criminal or terrorist attack.
The political debate on this issue—often focused specifically on whether tech companies should build a “backdoor” into their customers’ otherwise secure communications—is all part of the “Security vs. Privacy Face-off” that we predicted would be one of the top trends for 2016. The growing tension, according to Dr. Larry Ponemon, stems from the fact that cyber-terrorism and general terrorism will increase in 2016, even as Americans in the post-Edward Snowden world increasingly demand greater privacy and protection from government oversight.
The campaign for the presidency is highlighting this tension, as the candidates take a wide variety of stances—from a heavily pro-security stance to demanding warrants to collect or search private communications.
Cybersecurity as Political Football
Trump has been blunt about his belief that the U.S. needs to prioritize security over privacy—specifically to prevent ISIS-sponsored terror attacks. In a December 2015 speech, he said Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other high-tech experts need to be consulted about “closing that Internet up in some ways.”
The Republican frontrunner is not alone: At various points on the campaign trail, most Republican candidates have spoken out on the need for more government surveillance, from adding backdoors to continuing the NSA’s mass collection of private communications and even getting rid of encryption altogether. Last August, Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, “If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job—while protecting civil liberties—to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.”
In the December 2015 Republican debate, most candidates appeared anxious to position themselves as far as possible on the side of security over privacy. Ohio Governor John Kasich described encryption as a “major problem,” and Florida Senator Marco Rubio said, “We are now at a time where we need more tools, not less tools.” Rubio suggested that preventing government access into citizens’ communications could allow future terrorist attacks similar to the one in San Bernardino.
Not surprisingly, libertarian Senator Rand Paul stands firmly on the other side of the issue, arguing that the government should have to get warrants before accessing citizens’ communications. And Texas Senator Ted Cruz seems to be straddling the middle, having voted for the USA Freedom Act that makes it more difficult for the government to access phone records, while also arguing that the bill increases national security.
On the Democratic side, Clinton has taken a diplomatic approach overall, but in a December 2015 Democratic debate she suggested that the government should prioritize security over privacy and work with tech companies to implement a backdoor into encrypted technologies.
“It doesn't do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after,” Clinton said. “Otherwise, law enforcement is blind—blind before, blind during, and, unfortunately, in many instances, blind after.”
Like Paul, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders takes the contrarian view, arguing against government surveillance. He voted against the Patriot Act, and in the first Democratic debate, he said that as president he would shut down the entire NSA surveillance program.
In a June interview with Katie Couric, Sanders said, “I worry that we are moving toward an Orwellian form of society, where Big Brother—whether in the corporate world, or the government—knows too much information about the private lives of innocent people.”
In the months ahead, state primary voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on the privacy versus security debate. Will Americans elect a strongly pro-security president? Or will Americans elect a president who puts privacy first? We have until November to know for sure.