Looking forward to the next Congress …

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 …



4 Responses to Looking forward to the next Congress …

  1. thomasn528 says:

    Well, *that* title got my attention! — Absolutely yes, we should support consumer privacy initiatives. (For one thing, private co.s sell/give data to intel agencies.)

    [[Bracketing this out as a possibly unproductive digression — I generally much prefer threads about what to *do* next over ones about how to *label* ourselves. But: I sometimes wonder if our name is too limiting — “Fourth Amendment Coalition” or “Stop the Surveillance State” or “Stop Spying On Us” might capture what we’re about better than our concern about one particular law. As a separate issue, I also wonder how much our logo helps us with anybody at all at this point. end-bracketed-out comment]]

    I guess I think there is a real federal role for aviation safety, and unless there’s a surprisingly convincing argument otherwise — which I’m open to hearing — right now I hope we don’t go that route.

    Re int’l cooperation: one thing might be to just oppose the US threatening vast horrible consequences if the UK stops cooperating on all intel matters. If US intel services actually, really know something that might save UK lives, we should tell the UK about it whether they accede to every intel demand the US makes or not.

  2. jon says:

    on the bracketed out comment: agreed that we should think about our name and logo. Now’s also a great time to be revisiting whether we want to continue to describe ourselves as “a group of Obama supporters”.

    personally i agree that the federal government should have a role in aviation safety — but also can see that it might make a lot of sense to ally with those who want to reduce that role. Amid airport anger, GOP takes aim at screening and Full Frontal Nudity Doesn’t Make Us Safer: Abolish the TSA have more.

  3. thomasn528 says:

    I’m remarkably slow on the draw sometimes. When you talked about aviation safety I thought you meant stuff like air traffic control, airplane design specs, that kind of thing. I didn’t put it together with the body scan/TSA stuff.

    Reducing the federal role in screening passengers might be OK, though I think it would need to remain as a regulator/quality control of private screeners. The govt doesn’t build planes either — it sets standards for them; the same might apply for screening.

  4. Thanks for sharing some notes and thoughts from the conference call. I would certainly be optimistic about working in coalition with libertarians and some of the other groups you mentioned. I am unfamiliar with how things work in the U.S. Congress, but I’ve seen Libertarians in my state be very active and effective at the legislature and that made quite an impression on me.

    I also really support the idea of the looking at changing the GFR name and logo to make them more relevant to the average person and maybe even tap into some populist sentiment (although I don’t mean that in a disingenuous way and am not suggesting sacrificing any core values or elements of identity). If you folks go that route, I would like to volunteer to participate in some of the brainstorming.

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