The Price of Privacy on the Potomac

In case you haven’t noticed, privacy – meaning the protection of your personal data and information – is all the rage today.  In fact, privacy has become very big business not only in America, but also in Europe, where the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) mandated sweeping privacy protections for consumers and strict restrictions on how companies can use personal information and data. 

Doing business in this new era of privacy comes at a price, mostly for compliance.  Compounding this is the lack of clear rules in the U.S. where there remains no comprehensive federal privacy law.  It is no wonder that many companies have come to the privacy table kicking and screaming, forced to abide by a growing patchwork of inconsistent state laws with no federal preemption in place.

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Campaign To Break Big Tech Is Regulatory Overkill

When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) first went on the warpath against big banks, she captured the attention of middle America.  Now, Warren has turned her wrath on Big Tech.  Her mantra is that big companies are bad, and the bigger the badder they are for all of us.  The government, she argues, should step up its regulation of these companies and step in to break them up if necessary.  Not only is Warren wrong but she is also out of step with most Americans today.

It would be unfair to lay all the blame on Warren for the campaign against big corporations.  This sort of populism has been a strain in American politics since the Revolution, and most recently since the Occupy Wall Street campaign.  But today’s anti-corporate movement has a new look and a new lexicon, including terms like privacy, net neutrality, and transparency, to accompany the typical notions of competition and consumer protection.

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Reflections on the Microsoft/Ireland Case

Last week the Supreme Court granted a review of a Second Circuit decision upholding Microsoft’s defiance of a U.S. warrant for the production of e-mail messages, stored in a server housed in Ireland, of a man suspected of drug trafficking.

At its simplest, the legal battle between Microsoft and law enforcement is a debate over the reach and intent of a law passed many years (1986) before the coming of age of the Internet.

Microsoft and its allies argue that that law, the Stored Communications Act (SCA), was written at a time when Congress knew virtually nothing about the Internet and what it would become, and that furthermore there is no indication in the language of the law or congressional intent that suggests it could be applied extraterritorially. Continue reading “Reflections on the Microsoft/Ireland Case”

Orts and All

Facebook Buys the Oculus Rift.  As mentioned here a few months ago, the video game trade press has been wildly enthusiastic about the development of the VR headset called Oculus Rift.  And why not?  By all reports the OR headset is a significant leap forward in its immersive qualities, thereby providing a more life-like environment.

But there’s a difference between the creation of ever more realistic video games, on the one hand, and the kind of widespread societal change that VR’s enthusiasts predict.  Before VR can affect the way we live, work, and interact, many things will have to come together in addition to the perfection of the technology.

Things like price, availability, the regulatory environment, and widespread consumer interest in spending large amounts of time in the medium would all have to be successfully negotiated before VR could become profoundly life altering, and even then there might arise serious societal problems in consequence.

These caveats aside, however, there’s nothing more promising on the technological horizon than Virtual Reality, a fact that has gained immense corroboration by the news that Facebook has just paid $2 billion in cash and stock to acquire Oculus!

Time will tell whether VR, with or without an Oculus headset, can grow beyond the video game industry, but it’s a telling measure of Facebook’s futuristic thinking, and willingness to take risks, that it has made this investment.

David Brock Does Politico.  If, like millions, you’re unfamiliar with the person, or the even more bizarre life story, of one David Brock, founder of the malevolent outfit called Media Matters for America, you must not be reading Politico.  This, because Politico reporters fall all over themselves chronicling the gentleman’s every move.

Witness, for instance, Politico’s online reportage on March 25, featuring not one but two pieces.  From journalist Maggie Haberman comes an article breathlessly telling us about the “long journey” Brock has heroically taken from being a paid Hillary Clinton nemesis to an ally.

And on the same day, Politico reporter Katie Glueck penned an (unwittingly) hilarious piece in which she reports that Brock urged the end of “political smutmongers,” singling out by example Rand Paul for his criticism of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

David Brock’s Media Matters exists solely to try to silence, by whatever means necessary, conservative media outlets and individuals.  In an earlier age such as this might have earned Brock labels like “jackboot” or “book burner,” but not today, and certainly not in Politico.  So thanks a lot Maggie and Katie.

Sen. Cornyn Opposes Shield Law.  From Breitbart comes word that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) plans to whip the Republican Caucus in opposition to the Free Flow of Information Act, aka the federal shield law.  Sen. Cornyn argues, as he did last fall, that passage of this legislation would amount to a “licensing” of journalism, and work against the interests of bloggers and conservatives.

Sen. Cornyn is wrong about this, but rather than rehash all the errors in his argument, better just to read the piece (Five Myths About the Federal Shield Law) written by communications lawyer Kurt Wimmer, and published here in October.

                                   

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Facebook Jumps Into the Political Fray

The resolution of the flap over campaign ads paid for by a group (Fwd.us) funded by some leading tech barons, most notably Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, is going to be revealing of many things.

Perhaps for the first time the tech industry is giving financial and intellectual support to political campaigns that are bound to attract the enmity of many of the most fanatical people and organizations in the country: nativists, the public education lobby, and environmentalists among them.

The goals of Fwd.us are few but clear.  They want immigration reform, education reform, and support for scientific research.  It doesn’t sound all that radical, but in fact it puts the political neophytes from Silicon Valley directly in the crosshairs of a number of groups, evidence of which has come already via an organized campaign mounted by the Sierra Club in opposition to the campaign ads at issue.

The ads support two U.S. senators, a Republican (Graham) and a Democrat (Begich), both of whom favor immigration reform but who represent deep Red states whose citizens are believed to be hostile to the idea.  So the thrust of the ads is not about immigration, but about the senators’ views on environmental issues.  Graham favors the Keystone pipeline and Begich favors drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

In feverish opposition to this, the Sierra Club and like-minded “progressives” have organized “Dislike” campaigns against Zuckerberg, and held demonstrations outside of Facebook’s headquarters.  Given the cachet that environmentalists enjoy with the press, it’s clear that this campaign is going to create some ripples within Fwd.us, and among some of that organization’s tech industry backers.

So the question is, what will they do?  Will they buckle under the pressure and bad press, or will they dig in and move on?  It is, of course, ironic that the first of the organization’s kerfuffles is with environmentalists, since neither environmentalism (nor anti-environmentalism) is part of the group’s mission statement.

Not so in the case of their stance on public education.  The thrust of the spare language in the Fwd.us statement of principles is unmistakable.  It says they favor “Education reforms that produce more graduates in the science, technology and math fields and ensure all children receive a high quality education from effective teachers and accountable schools” (emphases added).

How, as a practical matter, this will sit with a public education lobby that resists any and all attempts at such reform, even as evidence of its manifest failure is everywhere apparent, is predictable and certain to embroil Fwd.us in other fractious debates.

Finally, there is the issue of immigration reform.  The two most prominent fears associated with the concept are (1) that it amounts to a kind of political power grab, or as Jay Leno quipped, that the new immigrants would go from being illegal aliens to “undocumented Democrats,” and (2) that there would be a huge rise in the social welfare cost of massive new immigration.

These are not irrational fears, but they could be ameliorated by legislative language. Meanwhile, the need for the USA to attract and retain large numbers of immigrants is clear if we are to stay competitive around the world, especially in the area of technology, and if we are to enlarge the work force that will soon be needed to pay for the retirement of millions of baby boomers.

For many years now, the tech industry has operated above and beyond the kind of messy and rancorous issues that the rest of us live with, and that Fwd.us has now engaged. It is a welcome development, but time will tell whether they are up to the challenge.

                                            

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.