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Thursday, May 29, 2008


This is the first in a series of posts on the 2008 presidential candidates’ positions on privacy. With identity theft the number one consumer threat to Americans today, you would expect at least the Democrats to be coming out full-bore with promises to secure our sensitive data. The Dems used to be the party of the people, protectors of individual rights, but that has gone by the wayside in favor of just winning elections. I even contacted the Obama campaign at the national and local levels because of his cry for “change.” There was no response. But then this is about John McCain.

Although it seems apparent that this candidate plans to carry out many of the policies of the Bush administration, he did stray recently by stating that he didn’t believe Congress should immunize the phone companies for liability in the NSA warrantless wiretapping. See Electronic Frontier Foundation.

According to Michael Arrington, a blogger and former corporate attorney, McCain’s reply to a question re. the government’s role in preventing identity theft and protecting online privacy: "I think the best solution is continued consumer education and business innovation to try [to] come up with further safeguards." This is from an interview Arrington had with McCain back in late 2007, and reported by Tech Policy Central.

Along the same lines in the Los Angeles Times blog, a McCain representative speaking on behalf of the candidate at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference held earlier this month, indicated that “McCain preferred a more market-oriented approach to technology issues.” Although directed primarily at the Internet, it is further substantiation that the Republican will act like a Republican, favoring big business over the consumer. The latter my comments.

If you go to McCain’s presidential election site, you won’t find any commitments to protecting your privacy. There is a page of “Issues” that lists fourteen topics, from the economy to the space program, but nothing that says he will address the ID theft problem and individual privacy in general. Earlier in an MSNBC article, the candidate states that he will talk about consumer issues during the course of his campaign.

In another recent blog by Lindsay Byerstein, Majikthise, she feels that McCain could be entertaining an advocacy of executive power even more extreme than the Bush doctrine. This stems from the presidential contender’s comment at Wake Forest University recently that “activist” federal judges were usurping the power of state legislatures. Byerstein wonders whether McCain is recommending that the Executive branch now assume full responsibility for interpreting the Constitution. She quotes Jeffrey Toobin, attorney and legal expert for The New Yorker and CNN who compares McCain’s position with Bush who expressed contempt for judges who “legislate from the bench.”

In Toobin’s The New Yorker piece, he observes the candidate’s reference to “penumbras” and “emanations” used by the Supreme Court as a way of skirting “clear and rigorous constitutional reasoning.” Not accidental, the use of the two terms penumbras and emanations says Toobin; the same words coming from William O. Douglas in 1965 in a ruling that a state could not deny married couples access to birth control. In the court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, it was also the first time the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy.

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