The 2020 Presidential Election and Future of Data Privacy

The 2020 U.S. Presidential election will be a historic moment for the country regardless of who the winner is. The two presidential nominees are incredibly divided on a number of important issues facing the country, but on the issue of data privacy and how it will be treated in the future, they have similar goals in mind; just different ideas of enforcement and how to achieve ideal consumer data privacy. Although Trump passed the ISP in 2017, effectively allowing big tech to collect and do whatever they want with consumer data taken from anywhere but California, the Republican party is not “anti-consumer privacy.

Candidates Takes on Data Privacy:

Trump: 

  • National Privacy Bill

Congress has attempted to create a consensus on federal consumer protection regulations, for which the Trump administration has signaled support. They have attempted to make a “digital privacy bill, but it has garnered no attention or attraction and ultimately falls short of what would be a comprehensive digital bill of rights. The Trump administration has also been slammed by privacy advocates for repealing broadband privacy laws requiring internet providers to seek user consent before using some forms of their data (mentioned before), and for acts they claim breach the privacy of immigrants. 

  • Data Privacy Collection by ‘Big Tech’

The Trump administration has also openly critiqued Silicon Valley, condemning Apple for what the president called its refusal to decrypt phones used by criminals. 

  • Chinese Surveillance

Trump also has recently been “purging” US app marketplaces of Chinese owned apps due to consumer privacy concerns. The administration was incredibly vocal about concerns with apps like TikTok and WhatsApp collecting US consumer data and passing it to the Chinese government.

Biden: 

  • National Privacy Bill

Biden said that the United States should set “standards of privacy, not unlike Europeans,” an obvious reference to the strict General Data Protection Regulation ( GDPR) of the European Union. The 2020 Democratic Platform calls for passing federal data privacy legislation, in particular expanding privacy protections for students. The 2020 Democratic Platform also calls for updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to give digital content the same privacy protections as physical content. 

While Biden himself may not be incredibly vocal about data privacy legislation, his running mate Kamala Harris was California AG and had a big hand in California’s privacy legislation. Before the CCPA existed back in 2014, the California AG Kamala Harris openly supported California’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Cal-OPPA) and stated that it applies to all companies that collect information from California residents – and as such applies to companies operating outside of California. Which is a major proponent of the current CCPA’s framework and something the Democrats are looking to implement into a national data privacy law.

  • Data Privacy Collection by “Big Tech”

According to the NY Times, we should not make judgement so fast on Kamala Harris. Although she may have done a lot for consumer privacy and data in general as California AG, she also has many close ties to Silicon Valley that have essentially placed her in the position she is in today. Many regulators and privacy experts actually expressed that while she served as Attorney General she was simply doing the bidding of big tech companies and none of her actions helped protect or secure consumer data. Regulators are worried that Harris is too comfortable with big tech. 

As a former state attorney general, Ms. Harris is likely to have a say in Mr. Biden’s political appointments to the Justice Department, including officials who control antitrust enforcement, even though vice presidents rarely ever set policy. In a Biden administration, she may also have a major impact on tech policy, as Biden has mainly concentrated on other issues.

Candidates on Social Media

Biden and Trump have also blasted social media platforms for their political content management. Trump, whose 2016 digital campaign helped propel him to the White House, has long accused corporations of censorship against conservatives without proof. 

Trump: 

After Twitter first slapped fact-checking labels on Trump’s tweets in May, the president signed an executive order seeking new regulatory oversight of the content moderation decisions of tech companies and endorsed legislation to abolish or weaken Section 230. 

Section 230 is a federal law created in 1996 that effectively exempts web platforms from legal responsibility for the material posted by their users. The general purpose of this was so online platforms can’t be sued for something posted by a user — and that remains true even if they act a little like publishers, by moderating posts or setting specific standards. Section 230 came to fruition because some online articles had accused the investment company Stratton Oakmont of fraud on one finance-themed bulletin board. In 1994, Stratton Oakmont attempted to sue the platform Prodigy, who were responsible for the bulletin board and the court actually ruled in favor of Stratton Oakmont. After the court decision congressman Chris Cox (R) from California  and Ron Wyden (D) from Oregon created section 230 which shields platforms from the liability of what their users post.

Biden: 

The removal or weakening of Section 230 is something both presidential nominees agree upon. Biden has clashed with Facebook over its more hands-off stance to politicians’ ads and speech, and also wants to revoke Section 230. He was the only Democratic presidential candidate to call for its repeal. 

On cybersecurity, both candidates are expected to step up efforts to defend U.S. corporations from cyberattacks and vital infrastructure, such as electrical grids. Darrell West, an expert on technology policy at the Brookings Institution, while speaking at the Forbes CIO next virtual summit, suggests a Biden administration will push for a kind of Geneva convention on cyber arms control, while Trump’s administration will continue to seek a more unilateral approach if re-elected. The Democratic Party wants more of a clear cut federal influence using the CCPA and GDPR as a framework for what could become a national data privacy law, while the Trump administration is happy for the states to deal with data privacy issues as they see fit. 

While not spoken about much during an election that has been dominated by the recent COVID pandemic, these different data privacy issues and the candidates stances will have long lasting impacts on several other industries.