Has Washington Forgotten About the Right to Privacy?


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

In her Liberty Minute titled “Browsing the Fourth Amendment,” Helen Krieble sheds light on the government’s failure to regulate private companies who regularly violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights:

Do you want telemarketers to know what you searched for online? Should strangers be able to access your financial information?

The current national debate about peoples’ internet browsing privacy is a bedrock principles issue. Some private companies like Google and Facebook collect data from their customers and sell it to advertisers without the consent of their customers. Now, internet service providers want the same ability.

Leaders argue that these are private companies, not government agencies, but a look through the lens of liberty would enlighten them how important our Fourth Amendment right to privacy is. Government is supposed to protect against invasions of our privacy, not decide who can and cannot invade it. Citizens should defend their rights, even if it means browsing for new leaders.

All too often, we as conservatives forget that our rights can be infringed on not just by government, but by corporations as well. Mrs. Krieble is exactly right: just as government is supposed to protect us from murderers and thieves, they should also protect us from those that would steal our privacy — which can sometimes include those very government officials.

In January, for example, the House Education and Workforce Committee debated recommendations from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking regarding a similar issue. The Commission had recommended expanded access for federal agencies to citizens’ data and, furthermore, authorization for researchers to be allowed to access this data.

The commission was established by the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2016 in order “to develop a strategy for increasing the availability and use of data in order to build evidence about government programs, while protecting privacy and confidentiality.” It would seem, however, that they are less focused on protecting privacy and more concerned with expanding government authority.

Thankfully, there are some who are very aware of the active threat government currently poses to the Fourth Amendment. Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, testified before the Committee, specifically regarding the government’s collection of sensitive student data. As Robbins argued in her testimony:

[O]ur founding principles dictate that a citizen’s data belongs to him, not to the government. If the government or its allied researchers want to use it for purposes other than those for which it was submitted, they should get the owner’s consent … That’s how things should work in a free society.

It is not only citizens’ privacy that the government is devaluing when they expand access to personal data and allow outside access to that data, but their dignity as well. Regulators are essentially saying that it does not matter if Americans do not want their personal data in the hands of people they do not know. Moreover, measures such as these send the message to companies like Facebook and Google that they should also be able to disburse people’s information without their consent.

Note especially how Robbins claims that this is not how things should work in a free society. Certain countries have no moral quandary in collecting and owning their citizens’ data. These are totalitarian countries. Robbins also notes in her testimony that the government could use student data to lead some students toward certain career paths and away from others. And this is simply one danger among many that such nonconsensual collection and use of personal data poses.

Hopefully Americans will heed Krieble’s advice and consider using the power of their votes to remove those who would infringe upon the Fourth Amendment from office. Defending the Constitution should be a basic requirement for any candidate who hopes to hold a position of authority in Washington.

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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