President Obama mentioned greater collaboration between DC and Silicon Valley at SXSW
He highlighted the many inefficiencies embedded in various routine activities such as voter registration and healthcare plan selection. He even discussed the effective uses of social media for law enforcement and intelligence agencies in fighting crime and terrorism.
So, who could have a problem with convenient voter registration, crime reporting, and an IRS/tax payment application? Collaboration between the US technological sector and the United States government, in fact, could be a great thing under one condition: transparency and oversight.
Domestic American Surveillance and a History of Turning Heroes into Villains
After all, when the words “terrorist” and "security threat" are thrown around with relative ease, one must remember how various civil rights and nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois were deemed as threats to national security.
This scrutiny caused them to be unjustly investigated, subpoenaed and restricted by the US government. In the 1800s, both West Virginia and Colorado were the scenes of federal law enforcement attacks on workers on strike.
Trend of Cooperation between Social Media Platforms and Governments.
Peter Thiel and other technocrats willing conduct data mining and surveillance for the federal government raise eyebrows for civil liberties advocates. Thiel also was a million dollar donor to President Trump.
In the last couple of years, governments such as Israel and Turkey cranked up the pressure on activists and networks of protestors who are using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Both governments are asking that these platforms delete or suspend the accounts of those who post messages or media which are deemed to be promoting violence or terrorism.
Beyond these two examples, it is now public that WeChat monitors and censors conversations outside of mainland China for the Chinese government.
In America, data mining companies like Palantir have helped the federal government collect information for projects like the Muslim registry and for the US Custom's tracking of immigrants. It just so happens that Palantir's co-founder and shareholder, Peter Thiel, gave $1.25 million to the campaign of Donald Trump, who has proclaimed himself to be the "law and order" candidate.
Cooperation from social media with the security and surveillance initiatives of nation-state governments is perceived by many observers to be harmless when they are conducted by world leaders such as Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.
Presidents Bush and Obama increased executive branch powers. Did they account for Trump presidency though?
However, the idea of President Donald Trump having the assistance of Facebook, Google or Twitter to help him implement his proposed national stop & frisk program or a renewed Muslim Registry seems both Orwellian and McCarthy-esque.
How will Trump’s NSA or FBI treat the leadership of Black Lives Matters, the Dakota Access Pipeline Water Protectors, and other activist groups? We know how such liberation movements were destroyed by the FBI's COINTELPRO operation.
Can one imagine the digital data version of a modern day COINTELPRO campaign against American activists?
Need for Security, Transparency and Accountability
In December 2016, President Trump met with Silicon Valley executives to discuss the future relationship between his administration and their companies, many of which store the personal data of tens of millions of Americans.
Yes, American citizens are just in their desire to be safe from those who seek to endanger the lives and property of civilians. However, are citizens not also just in their desire for an executive branch which will be checked and balanced by competent and independent judiciary and legislative branches?
We have yet to see how CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Faceboook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and their successors handle the relationship they must foster with Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
However, no matter how they proceed, there must be transparency in how private data is being shared/stored. And warrants must always be required by the judiciary branch before the executive branch accesses private devices devices.
Cooperation with the US government is necessary. Technological advances should almost ways be welcomed.
However, both the tech giants in Silicon Valley and our lawmakers in Washington DC should be working together to defend liberty and justice for all, not to trample our constitutional protections.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts. He primarily covers startup, tech and small business ecosystems and resources.