Thursday, December 18, 2014

People, businesses deserve protection from government

12/9/2013

The “recipe” for Coca-Cola and other food and beverages are kept under lock and key in the vaults of private companies across the world. Those recipes are an important intellectual property right allowing the companies to compete in the open marketplace. A product’s essence or cachet brings value to the product, so it understandably should be kept a secret by its owners.

But if it’s OK for Coke to protect its product, why is it any less important for other such private companies as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and others to protect their own secret ingredients too? Technology companies also produce something consumed, albeit by the mind rather than the digestive tract. Instead of keeping their inner-workings secret (as is done with Coke), the U.S. government has used its increasingly bulging security arm at the National Security Administration to order technology companies to provide its customers’ consumption habits not on a select basis, but on an everyday basis. That data — downplayed as metadata — reveals the who, what, when, where and how long about many Americans’ communications. Perhaps that seems like no big deal to some ... until they find out the government now knows about an individual’s calls to a physician, psychiatrist, religious faction, politician, law enforcement officer and everyone else too.

The “recipe” for Coca-Cola and other food and beverages are kept under lock and key in the vaults of private companies across the world. Those recipes are an important intellectual property right allowing the companies to compete in the open marketplace. A product’s essence or cachet brings value to the product, so it understandably should be kept a secret by its owners.

But if it’s OK for Coke to protect its product, why is it any less important for other such private companies as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and others to protect their own secret ingredients too? Technology companies also produce something consumed, albeit by the mind rather than the digestive tract. Instead of keeping their inner-workings secret (as is done with Coke), the U.S. government has used its increasingly bulging security arm at the National Security Administration to order technology companies to provide its customers’ consumption habits not on a select basis, but on an everyday basis. That data — downplayed as metadata — reveals the who, what, when, where and how long about many Americans’ communications. Perhaps that seems like no big deal to some ... until they find out the government now knows about an individual’s calls to a physician, psychiatrist, religious faction, politician, law enforcement officer and everyone else too.

While President Obama’s administration, as well as officials associated with the previous White House occupant, want us to willingly release this information to them on the basis of national security, the government’s collection of such data most certainly violates our constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Just because it isn’t a search of a physical nature to someone’s body doesn’t mean that this intrusion doesn’t violate the protections afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution.

Some would say this kind of privacy invasion has been going on since the beginning of the Cold War, but if so why hasn’t the government done a better job using the information gathered to prevent such heinous acts as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber’s attacks and others? The Patriot Act was renewed in 2011 by President Obama, continuing and expanding the use of roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of people suspected of terrorist-related activities.

China seems to be taking an alternate path and passed new privacy and security policies at the end of last year to reassure international companies of its commitment to protecting their own virtual secret recipes and subsequently encourage increased e-commerce. While this might be lip service by the Chinese government, it’s sad to think a regime not known for the protection of its citizens’ rights would be ahead of the United States on this issue.

The secret recipe for privacy doesn’t require a wiretap. It’s available by respecting Americans’ and businesses’ rights, rather than trampling them in the name of patriotism or security.

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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