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Republican platform highlights the importance of privacy

Engadget Engadget 19/07/2016 Terrence O'Brien
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In the wake of countless scandals, from Bush-era warrantless wiretaps to Obama-age metadata collection, the Republican party has decided to put renewed focus on citizen privacy. Multiple sections of the party's platform, which lays out its agenda for the next four years, call for strengthening privacy protections both against the government and private businesses. It even particularly calls out the need to protect the information of farmers and ranchers in the age of "big data." On the specific challenges around encrypted data and communication, however, the GOP leaves itself plenty of wiggle room when it comes to accessing such information.

Early in the platform document is a matter-of-fact acknowledgement that technology has become a major driver in how the party approaches a host of issues from national security, education and, of course, privacy. Many of the declarations are understandably ambiguous. The GOP says that it will push policies that "protect data privacy while fostering innovation and growth and ensuring the free flow of data across borders." Though it avoids getting into specifics.

It does single out the agricultural industry, which it says is undergoing a "revolution" thanks to big data, which poses unique challenges. The expected promises to advance privacy and security are accompanied by a slightly more specific call to preserve "private ownership of individual farmers' and ranchers' data." The platform does not specifically call for protecting "private ownership" of data beyond the agricultural industry, though the party's focus on the rights of individuals would suggest it would support broader protections.

The specific section of the platform dedicated to "liberty and privacy" pledges to limit government surveillance, though it does not specifically mention wiretaps, bulk data collection or other methods of domestic intelligence gathering that Americans are familiar with. Instead it calls for "strict limitations on the use of aerial surveillance on US soil" and opposes, "any attempts by government to require surveillance devices in our daily lives, including tracking devices in motor vehicles."

On encryption, the language is a little less forceful. The party rightly acknowledges that, "it will not be easy to balance privacy rights with the government's legitimate need to access encrypted information." The platform notes that the tech industry has responded to demands from consumers for private encrypted communications tools. And, the party's historic focus deregulation and open markets makes it loathe to interfere. In fact, the document specifically says Republicans do not want the government to become a "meddlesome monitor" in the tech industry.

These privacy and free market principles are often in direct odds with the party's focus on national security. Republicans remain concerned about the ability of criminals and terrorists to use readily available encrypted communication tools to plot and avoid detection. The party sees a need to be proactive on this issue in particular saying it's, "too important to be left to the courts. A Republican president and a Republican Congress must listen to the American people and forge a consensus solution."

GOP Party Platform (PDF)

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