Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Apple both seem to understand the marketplace.
Apple is betting bipartisan concern about intrusive government snooping will help sell phones and Paul is creating a pretty impressive presidential campaign based on the same play.
Apple and Google have rolled out new default encryption technologies on their latest phones that even the companies would not be able to unlock. This means the companies would not be able to comply with court orders to turn copies of their customer’s communications over to law enforcement. In what seems to be a coordinated counter, the Director of the FBI James Comey and the NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton fired back about the challenge this would pose to the legitimate needs of law enforcement.
Comey got the contours of the debate just right.
He’s clearly aware of the massive public backlash against government surveillance in the wake of the disclosures leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last summer. Comey asked whether the “post-Snowden pendulum … has swung too far” and correctly pointed out Congress would ultimately have to answer that question.
In a way that it seems only technology issues can, this fight has created new age political coalitions that might give a hint to who the GOP chooses to be its candidate in 2016.
Very little is left of the traditional alignments that used to pass laws in Washington. The coalition of farm state and big city members who used to join forces for agricultural subsidies and mass transit has withered as both interests have come under attack by Tea Party opponents. Appropriation-driven coalitions like the one that pushed the transportation bill have been crushed under the same political weight. Even what was arguably the most powerful cross-party coalition — the one that supported the Defence spending that touched so many districts — has been upended in recent years by the departure of Republican votes that won’t back using money on, well, anything.
Amid this changing landscape, technology battles have opened up the door to two new possibilities that are intriguing.
One is the chance that, since these issues are by definition new and not really burdened by being about spending money or supporting Obama, they it may actually get us that rarest of Washington accomplishments — a law.
There has been considerable turnover in Congress. At the beginning of this session nearly 40 per cent of members had between zero and eight years of service. These newer (but not necessarily younger) members of Congress don’t need to rely on their more senior colleagues to help them unpack issues like Net Neutrality, content piracy or digital privacy.
So, with this infusion of new blood and a set of equally new issues, maybe the old blue/red divide and rural/urban clashes will yield a new, harder to predict alignment.
Last time Congress had a debate about these issues, it tilted towards security and away from privacy and we passed the Patriot Act. This time, big city liberals who might be more sensitive to concerns about domestic terrorism, might cast votes in favour of giving law enforcement more access to our data. Meanwhile, conservative members who have been beating the drum about how dangerous President Obama is, might be more persuaded by the libertarian appeal of keeping our phones off limits to the big paws of the government.
The second possible outcome of this fight is the one Paul is betting on as he mulls a White House bid — that young Americans really care about this issue. His strategy was almost certainly inspired by the defeat of SOPA, which was fuelled by tech companies and young people who aggressively opposed the legislation on social media. Millennials who are turning away from politics in droves seem to be animated by these technology regulation fights. However, Paul should be careful, although they seem to have a libertarian bent, youth are not always predictable.
Still, Paul’s strategy could put him in a great place in a Republican primary.
Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and even Mitt Romney keep making their pitches to the centrist Republicans and arguing the future lies in the middle of the road. The Ted Cruz wing of the party is pushing for a nominee that appeals to the GOP’s most passionate Tea Party elements. Rand Paul is making a play for a far bigger prey — new voters.
Specifically, Paul is courting the same demographic Apple and Google aimed at with their new encrypted phones. He’s looking to build a White House bid with his own new age coalition of privacy-concerned, party-non aligned, previously-non voting, SOPA hating, pot tolerant youth.
In other words, Paul wins, it won’t necessarily be through red states. He’s betting on Reddit.
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