White House Healthcare Campaign Raises Data Privacy Worries

Information Privacy
The White House raised privacy concerns this week among those who oppose efforts to pass healthcare reform legislation. In a blog post earlier this week the White House asked supporters to report "fishy" information they receive regarding the debate on healthcare reform by forwarding emails to flag@whitehouse.gov.

The White House says it is enlisting the help of supporters to stay aware of the propaganda and disinformation that is being spread by opponents so they can address concerns and clarify the truth regarding the proposed legislation. Some have raised the ‘Big Brother' alarm and claim that these tactics by the White House are a violation of the First Amendment rights of those spreading disinformation.

One of the most vocal has been Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). Senator Cornyn wrote a letter to President Obama expressing his concerns about the privacy and First Amendment rights of citizens. He also said it seems "inevitable that the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House. You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."

On the one hand, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that the White House has a legal obligation to save all correspondence it receives. E-mails and such that are forwarded to the White House would be documented in the National Archives. However, Gibbs also assured the public that nobody is collecting names or building any sort of database of individuals.

Ironically Senator Cornyn, the champion of First Amendment rights and privacy concerns, had no qualms against supporting the questionably legal warrantless wiretapping program initiated by the former administration. Under that program the National Security Agency intercepts and analyzes virtually all telephone and Internet communications of American citizens. Ostensibly, this data is only collected for the purpose of identifying communications which may be related to potential terrorist attacks and not at monitoring the day to day activities of citizens. However, the program results in names, phone numbers, IP addresses, e-mails, and other sensitive and private information being intercepted and retained by the government.

It is because of supporters like Senator Cornyn that the NSA wiretapping program still exists and that the information he claims to want to protect in this case is already being collected. It may seem like a breach of privacy or violation of a citizens rights for the White House to collect this data. It is possible that the data could be use inappropriately in the wrong hands, but it seems relatively innocuous for the White House to gather information they need to be able to combat blatant disinformation and our privacy and right to free speech were already surrendered. Thank you, Mr. Cornyn.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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