In a time full of hacking allegations, cyber investigations, and a media circus revolving around digital efforts to manipulate a presidential election, the U.S. Senate just voted to remove consumer internet privacy protections before they ever began. Intelligence leaks have repeatedly shown that the digital reach of the U.S. government has extended beyond the understanding many lawmakers have of the cyber frontier, allowing those in the know to operate with near impunity within the broadly worded confines of the law, and sometimes, even beyond it. The debate about online privacy is often centered around this concern, with one side of the argument arguing that they would prefer the government not eavesdrop on their personal correspondence with family and friends, and the other side arguing that the benefit these methodologies offer is greater than any potential harm an NSA clerk seeing the kitten pictures you text to your girlfriend could produce.
The debate between security and maintaining personal freedoms is sure to extend well beyond contemporary politics or current surveillance policy, as it is inherent to the very balance we’ve branded as the American form of democracy. Valuing our independence and our safety has always come with a healthy level of passionate discourse – as it well should – but the discussion about privacy in the digital realm sometimes neglects the private sector, where many of us voluntarily deposit enormous amounts of personal information in the course of our daily web activities.
Unfortunately, the issue has slowly degraded from “important topic of conversation” to “political issue,” which means discourse can no longer occur, and politicians will revert to their default setting of simply voting along party lines, regardless of their understanding of a topic. In order to fully appreciate why our political machine has become less about discussion and debate and more about just picking teams, we’d need to have a long and serious conversation about how gerrymandering has made it almost more important to appeal to the powers that be in your party than it is to appeal to the voters in your district… but that’s a subject for another day, and a few more pots of coffee.
Suffice to say, the parties hold a great deal of power, and the politicians, intent on keeping their jobs, know that many of them are in no danger of losing their spot to an opposing political party (Republicans aren’t likely to start winning over the Berkeley, California area, for instance). This means playing ball to keep your seat, rather than concerning yourself over what the voters in your state are really looking for. Of course, like all things, that’s an over-simplification of an extremely complex issue, so let’s just agree that there are lots of things that influence a politician’s vote other than their constituents – party pressures, lobbyists, financial backers, and the like.