Privacy in the Age of Trump

by Sharon L. Robinson

The president does raise problems we have with our spyware practices which do need our attention. He feels personally victimized, however, rather than concerned about systems failures. His attack is defensive against the ongoing Mueller investigation and justifying his firing of FBI Director James Comey. The president once again conflates valid concerns with his situation in attempting to validate his opinions.

For example, any investigation by law enforcement at any level will cause harm to one’s reputation, damage to one’s personal sense of integrity, and destruction of social relationships, which depend on privacy. I think the urge for public safety tends to overlook this aspect of questioning. The true harm comes from secrecy where a subject does not know what is happening behind his back and others are not free to tell him. In our adversarial court methods to obtain truth, this makes the battle lopsided and leads to sanctioning simple bullying. The Bill of Rights intended to protect us from oppressive methods like this, and from errors which cannot be totally avoided. Cover-ups lead to corruption which must be examined. This true vulnerability of police work he uses to subvert the process is now used to look at his campaign. The solution for him is to simply abolish the problem by firing or demeaning the FBI.

We need our police, since laws will not be enforced nor followed consistently without them. We also need to trust that our authorities protect law-abiding people, give the accused the benefit of the doubt, and insist on getting at the truth. The president does not speak about putting things right, but questions the validity of our entire justice system itself. The law always has a face and that face is either biased, crooked, incompetent for the president as his needs suit. Attacking the practitioner seems to justify ignoring the law in his world. No alternative is offered but just a “follow me” approach as he takes off in uncharted territory.

His most legitimate gripe I think regards secret court systems, like FISA, which he challenged at one time. Secrecy in undercover police work is unfortunately necessary since criminals do not advertise their skills or wares, do not stand for the consequences of their actions, and do not answer questions honestly, but do all they can to get away or escape capture. But undercover secrecy does not belong in the court system, especially when used to authorize illegal practices in the law enforcement systems. Our present system does need work if it is truth and justice we seek, but it should be reviewed to seek better methods, not to seek out crimes.

If we seek something other than the truth, we need protection as honest citizens. Public safety has always curbed individual rights but not eliminated them. Our demand for safety at all costs brings a film to mind by James Agee, where to get a herd of cattle across a river teeming with barracuda, an old cow is thrown in as a sacrifice. As she is eaten alive, the cowboys and herd gallop across to safety. This is a documentary and is unwatchable. Human sacrifice was reportedly abolished long ago.

We need to take great care that the innocent are protected from societal fears, and to make investigations as open as possible so self-defense is maintained, and that the police and our system of justice do protect us from foreign involvement meant to harm us. We must base tactics on facts when potential harm to a subject is known, be prepared with plans if errors are made to avoid cover-up action, give up manipulating rules and laws only to win rather than seek truth, try to understand opposition so we do not take each other out by fears, and evaluate what we have to give for what we love in this country. And in the meantime, follow the law from the president on down!

Sharon Robinson has worked in the cartoon industry, the ACLU office in New York, public relations writing for an international engineering firm, the state of Oregon and a PR firm on Madison Avenue. She has published two books of poetry and prefers to listen to the waves and birds of Semiahmoo but finds this love threatened and thus speaks out.