A Trump win threatens to shatter newly forged Privacy Shield

Admit it. You’re starting to get scared, aren’t you?

The United States is in the midst of its extraordinarily long campaign season to pick the two contenders who will then battle to become president. One of the most important moments in this “primary” contest happened this week, when about 20% of the States held their votes to choose a Republican (the party of Reagan and Bush) and a Democrat (the party of Obama and the Clintons).

No surprise on the Democratic side: Hillary Clinton won big, and is very likely to be the Democrats’ choice for president.

What continues to shock everyone, however, is what’s happening in the Republican race. This week, it became increasingly likely that an angry billionaire named Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for President of the United States.

Trump has a long history of self-promotion and deceitfulness. Okay, not that much different than lots of politicians. But few Western politicians have used the broad invectives he employs regularly to slam immigrants, Islam and anyone who disagrees with him.

And now he is taking a stand in the Apple vs. FBI debate.

At the core of the case is Apple’s complaint that the US government is over-reaching its authority to demand access to the content on its phones. Given President Obama’s strident approach to data privacy, we think Apple will lose this one.

And under a Trump presidency? “First of all, Apple ought to give the security for that phone,” Trump told a crowd of supporters. “What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such time as they give that security number.”

In December, when asked about what should be done regarding jihadis’ waging a propaganda war online, Trump called for “closing the internet”. Trump’s overarching vision is apparently a world where governments can access personal data at will and certain technologies should be restricted and cut off from certain portions of the population, both in America and internationally.

Perhaps more frightening than Trump is the fact that he seems to represent millions of Americans. Indeed, his views on data privacy are indicative of a larger political push to curb individual privacy rights in the name of homeland security and fighting terrorism. The response to Edward Snowden’s revelations into the NSA’s mass surveillance program PRISM has largely been meek, if present at all.

In the absence of widespread condemnation of the practice, the US government has continued operating as if nothing had changed. Instead of when the Patriot Act expired in June 2015, it was promptly replaced by the paradoxically named USA Freedom Act.

Despite the bill’s initial intent to reform widespread NSA data collection, the final version was watered-down and its initial co-sponsor declared, “The result is a bill that will actually not end bulk collection, regrettably.” Crucially, the bill continued the controversial practice of warrantless monitoring of foreign citizens.

Less than three months later, the Senate passed an even more contentious bill with the support of some of the largest technology companies in the world including Facebook, Google and Amazon. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) affords the NSA and other security agencies the license to gather incredible amounts of personal data on people who use these companies. CISA also overturned two previous acts that restricted monitoring of conversation logs and communication history.

What’s striking about both of these pieces of legislation is their apparent contradiction of the recent EU-US Privacy Shield. Cobbled together from the rubble of the Safe Harbour agreement, the Privacy Shield was created to pacify EU businesses that relied on American companies like Amazon Web Services to store data and concerned about the result of Safe Harbour’s invalidation.

In the wake of USA Freedom and CISA, the Privacy Shield is rife with empty articles that hardly seem concrete for protecting privacy of European citizens. Are we meant to feel protected with the “written assurance” from US Government “will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms, preventing generalised access to personal data”?

As he surges into the General Election for the US Presidency in November, it’s worth asking if Donald Trump seems like the kind of person who would be deterred by a “written assurance” if his government decided that you were a threat?

Sadly, as it stands, there isn’t much you can do about it.