Clark Primary Victory May Be Good For Digital Privacy

In a seven-way primary with an all-star cast, Sen. Katherine Clark won the nomination for Democratic candidate for the U. S. House in my own district of MA-5, one of the most Democratic districts in the nation (D+22).

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She now faces Boston resident Frank Addivinola in the general, but it would essentially take a meteor strike for her to not head to Congress.

Here at Digital Fourth, we’ve been tough on Sen. Clark for her cosponsorship of Martha Coakley’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping. Our #MassWiretap campaign gathered over 4,000 signatures against that bill, and it became an issue in the campaign, producing third-party negative ads against her from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Curiously, though, there’s an argument that Sen. Clark’s victory in the primary may be positive for digital privacy. Let me explain.

Sen. Clark is the Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee on Beacon Hill, which is currently (through till March 2014) considering a variety of bills relating to electronic privacy, including the wiretapping expansion. But after December 10, Sen. Clark will in all likelihood be heading for the nation’s very favorite malfunctioning septic tank of Capitol Hill. Hey, I kid, I kid. Overflowing septic tanks are more popular than Congress (also see: communism, Nickelback). Even before then, her time will be heavily taken up with campaigning and preparing her Congressional staff. Will she really have either the time or the inclination in her short time left to push forward further on a politically damaging bill?

After she leaves, the new Senate Chair will presumably be the current Senate Vice-Chair, Gale Candaras of Wilbraham, MA. Sen. Candaras is not a cosponsor of the wiretapping bill, has a good record on privacy issues, and is unlikely to push the wiretapping bill with the same vigor that Sen. Clark did, if at all.

It may be instructive here for future Judiciary Committee leaders to have seen that carelessly agreeing to sponsor misguided bills authored by the AG’s office does not come without political costs.

Of course, I could be accused of taking a narrow view here. We’re sending to the House someone who did cosponsor a bill expanding wiretapping, and that could indeed be bad for the prospects for reform of federal wiretapping laws and programs. However, there are also valid counter-arguments.

First, in several federally important respects, Sen. Clark’s record on Beacon Hill suggests that she is likely to support reform in office. Notably, she cosponsored the state’s Electronic Privacy Act, which would set a warrant requirement for searches and seizures of email and digital documents. That is comparable to the federal reforms suggested by Sen. Patrick Leahy, and would go far to restoring the Fourth Amendment.

Second, during the primary campaign, and largely as a result of Digital Fourth’s advocacy on the topic, Sen. Clark committed publicly to support not only Leahy-style reform of warrant requirements, but also to support the Amash Amendment, defund fusion centers, and oppose mass surveillance programs of any kind. These were her comments on whether she would support the Surveillance State Repeal Act, the strongest anti-surveillance legislation currently proposed:

We need to make sure that any wiretaps are targeted at individuals, limited in time, and only allowed with a search warrant after establishing probable cause. The government should not be allowed to go on fishing expeditions into our private communications.

If this were actually implemented across the nation, Digital Fourth would essentially be able to shut up shop and go home, because the era of abuses by the NSA and other law enforcement agencies would be over.

Could she be snowing? Sure, she could be. And so could any candidate. There hasn’t been a politician in the history of time who didn’t need some pressing in order to actually live up to their pledges. So let’s press, and make sure she remembers these words, and votes accordingly.

Last, who is left here in-state to press the wiretapping bill? Martha Coakley herself, the bill’s progenitor, is now running for Governor. That leaves only House Judiciary Committee Chair Eugene O’Flaherty of Chelsea as the last supporter left standing and undistracted. Will that be enough?

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