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Privacy For The Common Good

Kos wrote an interesting post yesterday that deserves some further discussion. He offered his thoughts on Hillary Clinton (which were right on the money in my opinion) and in the midst of it mentions something that Hillary did last week that has not gotten nearly enough attention. (I would suggest that it would have gotten a lot of blogospheric attention if she wanted to use this medium to promote her ideas. This speaks to us directly.)

Last week Hillary introduced what I think should be a primary plank of the the Democratic Party:A Privacy Bill Of Rights. Indeed, I think this is the most fertile territory out there to gain some disaffected Republican voters and put some of the mountain west in our electoral quiver. It’s smart politics.

I happen to be a believer in the Democratic strategy that includes pulling on the civil libertarian threads in our coalition to weave a bigger tent. I’m personally horrified by the excesses of this administration and terribly worried that the huge bureaucratic domestic surveillance apparatus they are building is going to be impossible to control. I hear tales from all over the country of wads of DHS pork going to local and state police departments to use to spy on their own citizens and we know that at the national level they’ve pretty much discarded the fourth amendment and have enabled both the foreign and military spy agencies to work within our borders. There’s a lot of money and power involved, it’s secret and it’s fundamentally anti-democratic. We are building a police state and I firmly believe that, politics aside, if you build it they will use it.

That all this has been done by the alleged libertarian small government Republicans is no surprise to me. They have always been about big bucks and authoritarianism over all else. But it seems to me that it may come as a surprise to people with a certain "don’t tread on me" kind of ethos, particularly in the west which has a long tradition of such sentiment. If these tribal divides about which I often write exist, then there is a big one here. And if politics need to play to the gut as much as the head and the heart, this issue is powerful. Democrats have an opportunity to craft a real message of American independence if they choose to take it — and it might just be the way to beat back the fear factor a little bit, which I think people are getting tired of.


But there is another aspect of this which is important, as well. Clinton’s privacy Bill of Rights includes a lot of consumer protections, which is something that I think is a truly sellable, populist idea. The intrusion into our private lives by government is a threat to our individual liberty. The intrusion (and collusion) by its ally, corporate America, is truly a threat to the fundamental definition of what it means to be an American. The ability to amass all this data and create profiles of us and put us into categories and label us as being one thing or another according to complex formulas, means that the great innovation of America — the ability to reinvent ourselves and take risks — will no longer be optional. The great nation of immigrants and hucksters and innovators will become a stratified society based on criteria that has nothing to do with our potential and everything to do with our past.

Hillary said in her speech the other day: "privacy is synonymous with liberty." This is correct. We give it up far too thoughtlessly in our culture and its going to come back to bite us if we don’t wake to the fact that big powerful forces are poking into our lives in unprecedented ways and will use the information they get to force us into little boxes they design.

Democrats need to make some new arguments. They need to talk in terms that are relevant to today’s world. Progressives are about progress; we cannot only be concerned about maintaining what we’ve got. We must forge on. If we believe in the common good, which I do, it must be tempered with a healthy respect for individual privacy. Without the freedom of privacy we will not be able to come together to create a better world. We’ll all be too busy furtively looking over our shoulders to pay attention to the road ahead.

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