It is time for the Presidential candidates and the country to begin a real discussion about the future of privacy in America. This is an important issue for many Americans. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the #1 concern of American consumers. It is also a non-partisan issue. Leaders in both parties have championed this cause. Privacy is also a universal issue. In the globalized, networked world, individuals around the world confront questions about personal privacy every day. This is true both on social network sites and at military checkpoints in Iraq.
There is real urgency to begin a debate. The country is building new systems of surveillance and identification. Since 9/11, Congress has given the President new powers. Many experts believe we are constructing a national surveillance state. What are the views of the candidates? Would they continue on the current course? Is there a better approach?
The protection of privacy is much like the protection of the environment. It is an ongoing challenge without a simple solution. Just like the industrial economy had a great impact on the environment, the information economy will have an enormous impact on personal privacy. It is not a problem that is simply solved by giving consumers choice and relying on the marketplace. It will require a deep understanding of the challenges we face and the policy options we might pursue. The longer we delay the debate, the more difficult the challenges will become.
We need to begin a national debate on this topic now. We need to discuss both the specific bills that are pending in Congress and what our world will look like in ten or twenty years.
Those are the legislative questions that will appear on the Congressional scorecards. Several bills on these topics will be introduced in the next Congress. There are also the long term questions:
The questions are not easily answered. Many thoughtful, well informed people will reach different conclusions. But there should be no real doubt about the need to begin this discussion. We want to hear the ideas of the political leaders who are taking us forward into the Twenty-First century. Do they understand these issues? What do they propose to do?