Earlier this month I was on a Privacy Coalition conference call discussing the post-election political situation in DC. It was a great meeting, focusing on the opportunities for collaboration and cooperation among groups that may not typically see each other as allies, and I came away a lot more optimistic than I had expected to. With the organizers’ permission, I’m posting my notes here to share more broadly. The topics discussed included consumer internet privacy legislation as well as government action, so it’s a little broader than our usual scope here – hope that’s okay!
The Privacy Coalition is a nonpartisan coalition of consumer, civil liberties, educational, family, library, labor, and technology organizations that has been meeting regularly since 2001. The members include a lot of names that are familiar from the fight against FISA and the PATRIOT Act. It’s very much a “strange bedfellows” group politically, and the diversity of political perspectives on the call was very helpful!
Here’s the highlights
- The small government focus of incoming members (and the Tea Party and libertarian movements generally) creates opportunities for attacking appropriations. the National Taxpayers’ Unoin/PIRG joint report on government waste is a good example of what kinds of alliances are possible. More broadly, the way to look at this is in terms of reducing government responsibilities, not just funding. Should the government even be in the business of ensuring aviation safety?
- The partisan focus of the upcoming Congress will also lead to a lot of desire for oversight (aka administration-bashing)
- Committee memberships are in flux. Optimistic scenario: Markey goes to telecom, Barton gets strong position. Not clear that’ll happen. We shall see. New members are uncalibrated, but likely to be strongly against government regulation. now is a great time to be reaching out to them and their staffs.
- Internationally, is there possible international alignment with the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition in the UK: saving money [and improving civil liberties] by reducing surveillance?
- On consumer privacy, the ball’s currently in FTC’s court. A “staff report” is coming out this fall, 60 days of comments, and probably a committee report in the spring. Nobody on the call was optimistic that the FTC will take action but who knows. Congress will probably wait for report before acting. There are significant risks of weak and unhelpful internet privacy legislation. There are also significant risks of weak data breach legislation, preempting state laws, perhaps even in the lame-duck session. We must be vigilant!
- Several privacy coalition member organizations have done some effective consumer privacy lobbying (especially in the financial reform bill). There’s been substantial progress on the hill: getting access, solid talking points, good contacts on allies’ staff.
In this landscape, how can Get FISA Right have the most impact? A good topic for more discussion …