37: Be aware of Trump vs. Biden Views on Privacy-related Issues

We contrast Trump vs Biden views on privacy. There are sharp differences covered in the general media between the two candidates for the US presidency on a wide array of important issues ranging across the coronavirus, the economy, social issues, racial issues, law enforcement, healthcare, foreign relations/foreign policy, trade policy, climate change, and others. Given the scope of this blog on data privacy, we focus here on the US presidential candidates, Trump vs Biden, with regard to their positions on data privacy-related issues.


Trump vs Biden views on privacy

Sources


It was hard to find much from the candidates or their campaigns on the privacy issue, as in the current climate, for most voters, it does not rise as high in importance as the other issues.

The primary sources for our information and candidates’ assumed positions are as follows:

  • The ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) article Trump vs Biden: Comparing the Candidates’ Positions on Innovation and Technology published September 2020, which compares the candidates’ policies and approach on a wide range of technology and innovation issues, with privacy comprising a small portion of the paper.

  • The candidates’ campaign statements or their respective party’s platform.

  • Our own inferences as to what a candidate’s likely position on privacy would be based on the last four years of the Trump administration policies vs Biden’s past positions, campaign statements, or Democrat platform.

  • The photos above are public domain and taken from commons.wikimedia.com.

The following are peeks into our inferred positions of the presidential candidates on privacy.

Trump vs Biden Views on Privacy Generally


Based on the Trump Administration’s general minimal regulation approach, and the Democratic platform embracing strong national regulation protecting privacy rights, we believe that Biden is more likely to work with Congress to attain stronger US national regulations protecting consumer data privacy, akin to Europe’s and/or California’s and of the kind for which we have advocated in this blog.

Section 230


Section 230 of the more than two-decades-old Communications Decency Act provided immunity to “platform” companies (such as Facebook, Twitter, or instant messaging apps today) from liability arising from content that its users post. Both parties have expressed a desire to modify Section 230 and to condition immunity. The Trump administration (particularly the Department of Justice) would likely do so more from a law enforcement viewpoint, while Biden would likely hold platform companies responsible for hate speech and misinformation. Two thorny issues, we believe, are a) how one defines “hate speech” and “misinformation” without going overboard and infringing on legitimate first amendment rights; b) how much we can trust commercial organizations with millions of user postings to adjudicate inappropriate content consistently, thoroughly, and fairly.

Anti-trust


The Trump administration appears to want to use current anti-trust laws to break up alleged monopolistic practices of big tech firms, as demonstrated by this week’s filing of a lawsuit against Google. Given the Biden camp’s strong stand on enforcing anti-trust laws, it is likely they would also pursue breaking up the big tech firms that use their virtual monopolies aggressively.

Encryption


We did not find any formal position by either candidate to date on encryption per se, but the Trump administration's Department of Justice, the Biden camp, as well as certain congressional members of both parties have all advocated for legislation that will improve law enforcement’s ability to track criminals, at the price of having a detrimental effect on everyone’s privacy.

For evidence, see our prior posts 27: Reject US Senate’s Proposed “Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act” (LAEDA), a proposed direct attack on ironclad encryption, and 21: Urge Congress to Reject the EARN-IT Act due to privacy implications, believed by many to lead to requiring vendors to provide a "back door" to law enforcement (and ultimately to hackers and other criminals) to access encrypted data.

Data privacy


The 2020 Democratic Platform calls for passing federal data privacy legislation resembling Europe's, and presumably, Biden will pursue it with Congress. By contrast, the Trump campaign has issued a more vague position statement to support national privacy legislation that balances privacy and prosperity (this per the ITIF report cited above).

Take Away


While not at the top of most voters’ list of important issues, there are differences in the candidates’ approach to privacy. We believe it is fair to conclude that Biden would be more protective of consumer privacy rights, while both would likely support anti-trust action against some Big Tech firms.

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