Better Late than Never: The Biden Administration’s Push for Privacy Protection Against Foreign Powers

March 6th, 2024

It’s taken years, but an American administration is finally starting to take privacy seriously. Today the Biden administration issued an Executive Order restricting the flow of personal data to China, Russia, and four other countries. In the ongoing struggle to preserve what little privacy we have left in the digital age, this is a step we should have taken years ago. Still, it’s an important step, and one that comes better late than never.

For too long, foreign governments, including regimes whose interests and values are at odds with ours, have been able to help themselves to our personal data. Credit scores, spending habits, addresses, dating profiles and other types of revealing information have been available to anyone willing to pay. The Biden administration’s new policy puts a stop to that, prohibiting data brokers from doing business with the governments of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela and any companies affiliated with those countries.

Personal data has always been valuable and worth protecting. It defines us. It is, in a sense, who we are. In the era of artificial intelligence, safeguarding it has become vital. The algorithms used by predictive analytics were already very capable. Now, powered by AI, their ability to build accurate profiles of us, market products to us, fill our feeds, and manipulate us has reached a new and frightening level.

We are now 40 years beyond the dystopia Orwell envisioned in 1984. He would be amazed—and horrified—at how right he was. The only mistake he made was in thinking it would be the government, in the form of Big Brother, surveilling and manipulating us. As it turns out, private companies and massive corporations are doing it in the service of ever-escalating profits. Those companies aren’t run by government officials, they’re founded and staffed by private individuals. People not unlike you or me. Us. We’re doing it to ourselves. And until Biden’s executive order banned it, we’d been permitted to let Russia, China, North Korea and the others in on it, too. 1984 has nothing on 2024,

If we don’t get serious about guarding our privacy and demand more protection from our lawmakers and the companies that constitute the tech industry, we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame when privacy is little more than a nostalgic concept.

The Biden administration’s recent actions are significant and encouraging. But they’re not enough. If our leaders were truly serious about protecting us, our data, and our privacy, they would outlaw almost all forms of data collection. As it is, there are simply too many holes in the fence—and too many ways around it altogether—to really be effective. What we need is a fundamental shift in our thinking about personal information. It isn’t a resource to be exploited, gathered and sold to the highest bidder. It’s personal. It belongs to us. Of course the Cubans shouldn’t be able to use it as they see fit. But nor should some faceless corporation intent on shaping your Instagram feed. We need laws that will help us keep our information in our hands. Until then, the threat to personal privacy should be considered a threat to national security.

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