Eric Holder and Tech Policy

by on December 2, 2008 · 17 comments

Barack Obama will be nominating Eric Holder, former Clinton Administration deputy attorney general, to become the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement official.  This has folks like me worried, as Holder has expressed some unsavory views when it comes to keeping our technology free.

For example, Holder has expressed that law enforcement should have privileged access to encryption information, as Declan explains in his post at CNET’s today.  Declan and I spoke yesterday evening about this and Declan was kind enough to quote me in his post:

“What he’s saying is that government needs to have some sort of privileged access for encrypted information,” said Cord Blomquist, a policy analyst and communications director at the nonpartisan Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Presumably the justification is that terrorists are communicating through encrypted messages and we want to listen in. Giving government privileged access to that is not only an attack on privacy, it’s an attack on free speech itself.”

As if this threat to freedom of expression wasn’t bad enough, Holder has also come out in favor of mandatory data retention for ISPs and other tech companies and he’s stated that he believes the Supreme Court should look favorably upon some government censorship of the Internet.

All of these positions might lead one to believe that Holder favors the 1984 approach to law enforcement.  Rather than following the due process called for by the Constitution and only pursuing those suspected of a crime, or obtaining a search warrant, or doing real law enforcement work, this school of thought favors labeling us all as suspects.

Yet, Holder has opposed the illegal NSA-sponsored wire-tapping program and the current implementation of the PATRIOT Act.  But much of this could be explained away as a matter of political expediency.  Both programs were creations of the Bush Administration, and Obama is about change, after all.

Law enforcement is important, in fact, it’s one of the primary reasons we have a government in the first place.  Unfortunately, Eric Holder favors several policies that would use technology to violate the rights of all citizens, rather than investigating and prosecuting only those who break the law.  This is the reason we have written Constitutions.

Of course, this new administration is also about hope, and we have some reason to hope that Holder will be better than Ashcroft or Gonzales at upholding the Constitution.  But, as Jim Harper of the Cato Institute (and my fellow TLF blogger) said in the same piece by Declan, “What you get in an attorney general is an attorney general, and that’s someone who is going to work to increase the power of law enforcement.”

Well put Harper.

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