On Jan. 4, the EU fined Meta (Facebook) $414 million for illegally forcing Facebook and Instagram users to consent to personalized ads based on data collection. Yet Facebook is still trying to avoid asking users for consent. The law in question was the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the toughest privacy and security law in the world. The right to privacy is part of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
Just prior to this, in November last year, Google agreed to pay nearly $392 million in a settlement with 40 states (plus an $85 million settlement with Arizona) over allegations that the company tracked people through their devices after location tracking had been turned off. Google was not fined for breaking U.S. privacy laws, which are weak compared to the GDPR. Instead, they were charged for breaking consumer protection laws by misleading users about when it secretly recorded their movements and then offered the surreptitiously harvested data to digital marketers to sell advertisements.
“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “They have been crafty and deceptive.”
According to The Markup, Facebook was also recently exposed for using tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer to receive sensitive financial information when Americans file their taxes online.
Why would Facebook and Google go to such lengths to spy on their customers? These companies have a business model that is heavily based on targeted advertising that is most profitable if they know everything about you. According to Statista, Google generated $209.5 billion from digital advertising in 2021, followed by Facebook, with over $114 billion. If Facebook were forced to allow users to opt out of personalized ads, says The New York Times, it could result in so many users opting out that it would “cut off one of the most valuable parts of Meta’s business.”
Privacy is not a sexy topic. Why should we care about data collection if we have “nothing to hide?” Because unconstrained collection, analysis, and use of personally identifiable information have also enabled the political censorship, harassment, and persecution of conservatives by left-leaning companies such as Google, Facebook, and many others. Privacy legislation is a practical necessity if the Republican Party is to survive the onslaught of Big Tech targeting.
The Founders Understood Protecting Privacy
The founders of this nation established the Fourth Amendment because they understood that people needed to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government because such violations of privacy would enable tyrannical behavior. Today, privacy issues center mostly on information gathered and misused by private companies. But the same principles underlying the Fourth Amendment apply if you equate unreasonable data collection with unreasonable search and seizure.
Most of the language and structure of the Fourth Amendment was primarily the work of John Adams. In fact, privacy was considered so important that the use of “writs of assistance” for customs searches and seizures (to look for contraband or taxable goods) was considered to be “the first in the chain of events which led directly and irresistibly to revolution and independence.”
Some argued that the ability to effectually collect taxes was more important than individual liberty, an argument rejected by Adams, who said, “Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner also may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm.” Today, governments have a rich new set of information that is easily accessible without due process and has been used to harass, intimidate, or persecute political opponents.
During the 2022 Freedom Convoy protests, we saw the government of Canada use tyrannical methods to target protest supporters by blocking donations, seizing property and accounts, demanding cooperation from private businesses without a court order, and using state coercion beyond the formal channels of due process. After the Jan. 6, 2021 protests, the politicized FBI obtained information from private companies, such as Bank of America financial transactions and Google geolocation data, to identify and harass conservative Americans and violate the constitutional rights of many who merely engaged in legal protest or, at most, committed only nonviolent trespassing misdemeanors.
According to Andrew Ferguson, a professor of law at American University, “the January 6 cases are going to be used to build a doctrine that will essentially enable police to find almost anyone with a cellphone or a smart device in ways that we, as a society, haven’t quite grasped yet. That is going to undermine the work of journalists, it’s going to undermine political dissenters, and it’s going to harm women who are trying to get abortion services.”
The largest private misuser of personally-identifiable information is Alphabet (Google and YouTube), which manipulates individual search results, suppresses conservative emails sent via Gmail, and uses personal information to shift voting preferences to Democrats. Others include tech companies such as Meta (Facebook and Instagram) and Twitter (before the Elon Musk buyout). As shown in “The Twitter Files,” Twitter executives and employees targeted conservatives for censorship, suppression, or promotion based on their political beliefs or affiliation, in collusion with the government.
Big Tech’s Cost-Benefit Analysis
Big Tech and other companies have been fighting against data privacy laws since there is so much money at stake. The largest monopolies benefiting from your private information while also using it against you, Google and Meta, donate overwhelmingly to Democrats. According to Open Secrets, 94 percent of Google (Alphabet) employee political contributions, 94 percent of Meta donations, and 99 percent of Twitter donations, went to Democrats in 2020. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also donated over $400 million to collude with Democrat election officials to influence the 2020 elections.
Financial discrimination has become another widespread result of the misuse of personal data. Paypal has been accused of waging war on conservative businesses that provide services they oppose, as have many other financial institutions. GoFundMe blocked donations to the Freedom Convoy and to conservatives in need of legal representation, thus undermining the ability of presumed-innocent citizens to obtain a fair trial.
There is a real risk today that all financial transactions will be aggregated, monitored, and used against us by those with political motivations. This is especially true for legal activities such as buying a gun, since gun control is a major objective of leftist activists. According to Philip Watson, founder of Washington Public Relations and a Second Amendment advocate, “Financial activism by banks is by far one of the largest emerging threats against Second Amendment rights.”
Last week, West Virginia introduced legislation to ban credit card companies from collecting or disclosing data about customer firearms purchases. This was the first state response to the September 2022 decision by Visa, MasterCard, and American Express to assign specific category codes to all sales from gun shops or gun-related purchases from sporting goods stores.
The growth of cryptocurrency, contrary to popular belief, will expose even more private personal information. Crypto transactions are based on an anonymous public blockchain system, but they can be linked to real identities as soon as a crypto wallet is linked to a financial institution. If one’s account identity is not kept private, then every person’s financial transactions will effectively become public records.
Failing to Act Is Political Suicide
Even though there is bipartisan support for better privacy legislation, Congress has failed to enact a comprehensive national data privacy law, and only five states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia, have enacted such laws. The most recent attempt to pass strong national privacy legislation, the American Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA), failed last year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed it.
Any Republican who accepts donations from Big Tech yet promotes the interests of an industry that primarily supports and colludes with Democrats to win elections is foolishly putting his party on the road to political suicide. The new Republican-led Congress should pass an enhanced ADPPA that is stronger than the GDPR not only because it would help to protect our rights, but also because it would damage the business model of the left-leaning, activist monopolies most involved in misusing our data against us for political purposes.
GDPR principles limit data collection to only the minimum of what is needed for specified, legitimate purposes and only for the time period for which it is needed. Europeans have privacy rights to see, correct, or delete all personal information held about them. U.S. privacy laws do not even come close.
The ADPPA should be enhanced to ban the use of private data to discriminate on the basis of political or religious beliefs or affiliations. It should also reaffirm that it is illegal for employers to demand private medical information and use it to exclude or fire those who do not comply with medical mandates of dubious legality.
It is time for Republicans to stop supporting industries that both undermine individual rights and collude with Democrats to defeat us in every election. Regulation will not be enough to stop Big Tech. We must also starve the beast that feeds on your private information and uses it against you. A strong privacy law, along with enforcement mechanisms and severe penalties for large companies that deliberately violate the law, can be an effective strategy to both push back against threats to freedom and to remove obstacles that make it harder for Republicans to win elections.