January 22, 2018

The chaotic politics of privacy

Almost nobody pays attention to the real issues in privacy and surveillance. That’s gotten only slightly better over the decade that I’ve written about the subject. But the problems with privacy/surveillance politics run yet deeper than that.


The politics of privacy and surveillance are confused, in many countries around the world. This is hardly surprising. After all:

Technical cluelessness isn’t the only problem. Privacy issues are commonly framed in terms of civil liberties, national security, law enforcement and/or general national sovereignty. And these categories are inherently confusing, in that:

Data sovereignty regulations — which are quite a big part of privacy law — get their own extra bit of confusion, because of the various purposes they can serve. Chief among these are: 

The United States

Specifically in the United States, I’d like to drill into two areas:

The constitutional confusion goes something like this:

For example:

Those links are all to Wikipedia. At the time of this writing, the ones on Warshak and the SCA go into considerable constitutional depth.

The Email Privacy Act is also the single best example of this post’s premises about the general chaos of privacy politics.

Last week’s FISA reauthorization is another example; it wouldn’t have passed without senior-level Democratic support in the House and Senate alike.

*A chief opponent among the Democrats was Diane Feinstein, who despite representing California is commonly hostile to technological good sense. She voted for FISA reauthorization as well.

Like many folks, I’ve been distracted by all the other political calamities that have befallen since November, 2016. But the time to refocus on privacy/surveillance is drawing near.

Related links


2 Responses to “The chaotic politics of privacy”

  1. Some things I think about politics | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on February 16th, 2018 2:22 am

    […] Partisans of all sides can be concerned about privacy, surveillance and government overreach. […]

  2. Politics can be overwhelming | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on May 19th, 2018 5:16 pm

    […] also posted recently about the chaotic politics of privacy. If anything, the ongoing FBI/FISA firestorm suggests that I understated the […]

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