During Trump’s acceptance speech at 3AM, I was scrolling through Snapchat (as is expected of a digitally-connected 15 year old), trying to gauge the reactions from my friends. Some were confused. Some were disappointed. Others were angry. I felt a combination of all three, a mix of emotion that ended up manifesting itself as tears. All of us were scared of a Trump presidency and felt genuinely insecure in our futures. The next morning, I received an email requesting that I wear black in response to Trump’s victory. This didn’t surprise me, and I complied. My school is extremely liberal, and Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything that it stands for. I have no qualms in saying that I hate Donald Trump. He is a sexist, a bigot, a racist, a narcissist, and, to add one last quality to the list, he is the greatest threat to your personal privacy that currently exists.
As a teenager who is up-to-date with the current digital trends (right now Snapchat, Instagram, and “Houseparty”), I am both a consumer and a producer of the constant flood of social media that my generation surrounds itself with. I participate reluctantly, however: recently I have become increasingly aware of the privacy that I sacrifice with social media, and this has led me to be, suddenly, a privacy fanatic.
Covering the camera on my laptop is a piece of tape, and a thick strip of duct tape renders its microphone useless. Over my screen is a “privacy shield,” a thin film that blurs its image for anyone who isn’t viewing it from straight on. Instead of using iMessage for texting (the built-in iPhone app), I use the open-source encrypted messaging app Signal. Paranoid of Google, I host my calendars, cloud storage, and contacts on my own encrypted server.
I admit that I may be a bit crazy when it comes to privacy. I recognize that there likely isn’t much about me that would make me more interesting to a hacker or the government than any other high-school sophomore. In this sense, I don’t really have anything to hide.
Except I do, and you do too.
Everything is worth hiding. If I went up to you and asked you to write down all of your usernames, passwords, and online identities on a sheet of paper, I’m confident that you would refuse, and you would be justified in doing so. You should treat your privacy no differently. Privacy is the ownership of your physical and mental reality. With privacy, you are free to think whatever you’d like to think and say whatever you’d like to say. Privacy is the control of your own information, and it is a prerequisite for freedom and individualism. Your identity is comprised of what information you reveal about yourself to others, and in the absence of privacy, you lose this control and in turn, you lose your identity. Intimacy is the act of sacrificing your privacy (both physical, emotional, and intellectual) to someone else. Imagine being intimate with Donald Trump.
This is why I am afraid of a Trump presidency. That is not to say that there aren’t other reasons I am afraid—his sexism, bigotry, racism, and volatility among them—but the threat he poses to privacy is what truly terrifies me.
Donald Trump is hard to understand. Some of his policies and promises are straightforward: build a wall, deport all the undocumented immigrants, and something about China. Donald Trump hasn’t, however, said much about privacy during his campaign. In the rare cases that Trump has been asked about it (and other similarly related issues), his message is cryptic, vague, and illusory of deep ignorance.
When asked in a New York Times interview on his stance on cybersecurity of the nation, Trump spouted an incoherent and repetitive mashup of tech buzzwords: “First off, we’re so obsolete in cyber. We’re the ones that sort of were very much involved with the creation, but we’re so obsolete.”
Clearly, Donald Trump has no clue about ‘cyber’—a term that he uses as synonymous with ‘cyberwarfare,’ ‘cybersecurity,’ and ‘computers.’ This ignorance is alarming. How can a president who knows nothing of the current state of ‘cyber’ (to which both state and individual privacy are directly dependent) be expected to make informed decisions? The simple answer is that he cannot. And as a digitally-dependent teen whose life is (to my dismay) documented online, his blasé attitude toward cybersecurity irks me.
Trump’s stance on the Patriot Act is equally unnerving. Trump supports the act, which was passed in the aftermath of 9/11 and has been ruled to be unconstitutional. He says that he “errs on the side of security” in the privacy vs. security debate, despite there being no fundamental dichotomy between the two (the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs have not prevented a single terrorist attack). But Trump wouldn’t know that. Trump’s ignorant support of an act which has stripped Americans of their Fourth Amendment rights should be significant grounds for concern, and with Trump soon to be at the helm of the United States Government, I’d like to preserve as many rights and protections as I can.
It is evident that Trump is resolute in his opinions on cybersecurity and privacy, despite having next to no knowledge on their many intricacies. The few opinions he has shared on these issues are concerning, however they are not the true root of my concern. My worry is that under a Trump presidency, our already data-hungry government will further its domestic surveillance programs. Donald Trump’s opinions and policies on privacy are scary, but it is his ignorance that is the true threat.The NSA will use Trump as their naïve puppet to authorize their increasingly Orwellian domestic surveillance programs.
What we must do as a society is put unrelenting pressure on Trump during his presidency, so that nothing—no surveillance program, no drone strike, no warrantless search—can take place without the entire country knowing. In the absence of such a pressure, Donald Trump will leave our society vulnerable to our very own government. This, to my dismay, is unlikely to happen. And as a digital native to whom the notion of privacy itself is hard to grasp, I am worried that under Trump I may never truly know what it is.
This was originally written in an email to The Atlantic. I’ve made minor changes to make it more timely and added links to sources.
This was also published on Medium.