“Everyone should care about privacy because information is power, and human information confers power over human beings,” says Richards. “In an information society where so many decisions are made based on our data, having meaningful protections for that information is essential if we want to remain free, happy and able to thrive in our lives.”
Richards points out that after the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, US lawmakers realized they needed to guard against future presidents who abuse their power in the same way Nixon did, the which led to important political reforms. He says something similar should happen now.
“This has happened before. After Watergate, where it was clear that President Nixon had abused the powers of his office and violated the privacy of American citizens, a series of rules were put in place that restricted the ability of future presidents to do it,” says Richards. “There was a federal privacy law — the Privacy Act of 1974 was passed, there were a bunch of government ethics and open government rules that were put in place.”
After the resignation of Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal, Congress passed laws such as the Ethics in Government Act, the Government in the Sun Act, the Inspector General Act of 1978, the Presidential Records Act and more in response to the widespread misconduct of the Nixon administration. . Former President Trump now faces the possibility of being charged with violating the Presidential Records Act over his handling of classified documents.
Congress needs to pass new legislation to protect privacy and protect against corruption, Richards says, because we’ve seen what can happen when a president decides to test how much he can do with the power at his disposal . He says the Trump administration demonstrated that repeatedly.
However, there is a risk that any legislation passed by Congress will be struck down by what is now an ultra-conservative Supreme Court. Hartzog says the legislation will have to be written with that in mind.
“Anything that happens has to be cognizant of the state of the Supreme Court right now and its trends,” Hartzog says. “This includes, of course, a very skeptical view of certain kinds of privacy, such as decisional privacy rights, as we have seen with Roe recently.”
A law that grounded the right to privacy in long-standing traditions may not be overturned by the current Supreme Court, with its so-called originalist viewpoint, and Hartzog says lawmakers are already beginning to focus on that strategy when drafting legislation.
Building and safeguarding institutions will also be important, Richards says, because strong institutions help prevent would-be authoritarians from gaining so much power. He says government agencies should do everything they can to become more independent and more robust so they can withstand future abuses of power, and Congress should work to protect these institutions.
Congress has spent a lot of time focusing on how to prevent the next presidential election from being stolen, but it hasn’t really considered what it might be doing to protect the rights of Americans if an election ends up being stolen or if there is an authoritarian victory. direct elections.
If support for authoritarian leaders remains strong, power could be reached. Preparing for it now is better than simply reacting to abuses of power when they inevitably use the weapons we left waiting for them.