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Do You Know Where The Candidates Stand On Privacy?


Updated April 5, 2016

The Apple-FBI showdown over a locked iPhone has reinvigorated data privacy discussions in recent weeks. As a result, presidential candidates are clarifying and elaborating on the positions they’ve developed over the course of the campaign to date.

Heralded by Edward Snowden as “the most important tech case in a decade,” the Apple-FBI debate is the latest in a string of high-profile international and domestic data privacy issues to enter the national conversation.

The candidates’ debate responses and their official campaign platforms reveal where they stand on questions of data privacy. And since we’re right in the heart of primary season, keep their positions in mind as you head to the polls.

After all, the outcome of November’s election could directly affect policies that govern how your information can be used for years to come.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has, at times, fallen on both sides of the privacy debate.

She has spoken out against the use of warrantless surveillance that followed the passing of the Patriot Act, yet showed little sympathy for Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government’s surveillance of American citizens.

“[Edward Snowden] broke the laws of the United States. 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.” (First Democratic Debate)

Her debate rhetoric appears to emphasize compromise, balancing often competing agendas to achieve a safer United States:

“So we always have to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety, but I know that law enforcement needs the tools to keep us safe. And that’s what I hope, there can be some understanding and cooperation to achieve.” (Third Democratic Debate)

Clinton reiterated that stance in response to the “difficult dilemma” between Apple and the FBI:

But I see both sides. And I think most citizens see both sides. We don’t want privacy and encryption you know destroyed. And we want to catch and make sure there’s nobody else out there whose information is on that cellphone of the killer.” (MSNBC-Telemundo Town Hall)

Bernie Sanders

A vocal critic of the NSA surveillance program, Sen. Bernie Sanders has said that as president, he would “shut down what exists right now.” He has said “virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA,” calling the entire program “unacceptable.” (First Democratic Debate)

Diverging from the other candidates, Sanders is quick to point out that the federal government is not the only institution monitoring our personal data, but that “corporate America is doing it as well.” (First Democratic Debate)

Like Clinton, Sanders also sees a possible “middle ground” between the interests of both Apple and the FBI:

I am very fearful in America about big brother. And that means not only the federal government getting into your emails or knowing what books you’re taking out of the library, or private corporations knowing everything there is to know about you in terms of your health records, your banking records, your consumer practices. I worry about that very, very much. On the other hand, what I also worry about is the possibility of another terrorist attack against our country. And frankly, I think there is a middle ground that can be reached.” (MSNBC-Telemundo Town Hall)

The Republicans

Donald Trump

When it comes to sound-bites about technology issues, Donald Trump can’t seem to escape his puzzling remarks on shutting down parts of the Internet as a way to curb ISIS’ ability to recruit new members. Criticized by both technologists and free-speech advocates, asking to pull the plug on the certain parts of the Internet presents a number of issues ranging from technical constraints to human rights concerns.

However, Trump’s comments on the state of domestic privacy issues present a clearer picture. He has argued that national security concerns are a sufficient rationale for maintaining government surveillance programs.

I assume when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth. It’s pretty sad commentary. But I err on the side of security.” (Hugh Hewitt’s Radio Show)

Ted Cruz

Despite being one of the most conservative candidates on the spectrum of Republican presidential hopefuls, Sen. Ted Cruz has clashed with some of his Republican counterparts over his favorable view of the USA Freedom Act.

Unlike Sen. Rubio, who voted against the legislation, Cruz defended his position arguing, “I’m very proud to have joined with conservatives in both the Senate and the House to reform how we target bad guys.” (Fifth Republican Debate)

For Cruz, issues of personal privacy and the potential for government intrusion still take a back seat to national defense:

[The USA Freedom Act] strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists…we have cell phones, now we have Internet phones, now we have the phones that terrorists are likely to use and the focus of law enforcement is on targeting the bad guys.” (Fifth Republican Debate)

Cruz responded to the Apple-FBI issue by distinguishing between the FBI’s specific request and Apple’s stance more generally:

“...Apple should be forced to comply with this court order. Why? Because under the Fourth Amendment, a search and seizure is reasonable if it has judicial authorization and probable cause. In this instance, the order is not put a backdoor in everyone’s cell phone. If that was the order, that order would be problematic because it would compromise security and safety for everyone. I would agree with Apple on that broad policy question.” (Tenth Republican Debate)

John Kasich

Ohio Gov. John Kasich had the opportunity to respond to several privacy and encryption questions during the Republican debates, and each time he aggressively tipped the scales in favor of national security over personal privacy.

Referring to encryption as a “big problem,” Kasich has argued that the federal government should enable backdoor access to encrypted technologies as a way to enable local law enforcement.

Look, what a president has to do is take a position. We don’t want to err on the side of having less [data]. We want to err on the side of having more.” (Fifth Republican Debate)

Kasich was highly critical of bringing the Apple-FBI debate into the public spotlight, arguing instead that the president should’ve settled the issue from behind closed doors:

“The president of the United States should be convening a meeting, should have convened a meeting with Apple and our security forces. And then you know what you do when you’re the president? You lock the door and you say you’re not coming out until you reach an agreement that both gives the security people what they need and protects the rights of Americans.” (Tenth Republican Debate)

What do you think of the candidates’ positions on privacy? Join the conversation with @inflection #PrivacyAware.

TAGS: privacy