In 2010, Republican candidates for office insisted there was a Democratic intrusion into individual privacy rights. Tea Partiers started waving The Constitution around and claiming that Democrats were stealing our individual freedom and liberty away. Then Congressional candidate Frank Guinta told the Dover Tea Party in 2009 that “they have been ensuring that more government intervention and oversight is taking over our lives each and every day. This has to stop.” He told the Portsmouth Tea Party in 2010, "We said enough. Enough of taking our freedom, enough of taking our liberty."
The tea-party Republicans won across the nation, in large measure due to these kinds of claims. So, it’s fair to examine how the Republicans have voted on privacy rights in the 112th Congress. It’s also startling and worrisome.
There are several legislative actions with huge implications for privacy, but I want to focus on two. One was an amendment, House Amendment 97 to HR 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011. An American Library Association publication, The District Dispatch: News for Friends of Libraries, said this amendment would improve privacy protections under the PATRIOT Act. This amendment would refuse to allow the U.S. government to spend any money under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to force a library to turn over its circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, or book customer lists. If passed, this would mean the library would not be forced to tell the government what you or anyone at your town library was reading, or what books you bought at the “books for sale” table unless the government had a warrant. The Republican Congress, including both New Hampshire members, voted "NO" to an individual's right to privacy. They had a chance to protect innocent library users and refused. Percentage-wise, there are very few times the U.S. government needs to see public library records, but there are some—and an easily obtained warrant would have allowed that access while protecting the rest of us.
Another huge privacy issue involves Facebook and other social networking websites. There have been recent news reports of employers demanding employees’ or job applicants’ passwords to their Facebook or email accounts so the employer can look at anything he or she wants to look at. This is an outrageous violation of privacy. What's next, the keys to someone's house? Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter recently tried to stop this snooping. He proposed adding an amendment to H.R. 3309, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Process Reform Act of 2012. He said nothing in that bill should restrict the FCC’s authority to “protect online privacy, including requirements…that prohibit licensees or regulated entities from mandating that job applicants or employees disclose confidential passwords to social networking sites.” Simply stated, the amendment said the FCC would be able to protect individuals' online privacy. The Republican Congress thought otherwise, and said "NO" to your right to privacy.
In the North Carolina Congressional race (NC-10), Republican primary candidate Ken Fortenberry was upset that his opponent, the incumbent, did not protect individual privacy and freedom. He asked, "How can anyone who honestly believes in respecting the rights of citizens to free speech be in favor of robbing them of their Constitutional rights through this invasion of privacy? Maybe we should ask [US Rep. Patrick] McHenry for the passwords to his social media accounts."
So, how did our two NH members of the House of Representatives vote? They voted against our freedom and against our individual right to privacy. How would Congressman Guinta or Congressman Bass feel about handing over to us, the people who are their employers, the passwords to their private Facebook accounts?
This is just wrong. Our government and our businesses must be vigilant, but not bullying. Alert, but not fearful. Careful, but not liberty trampling. These attitudes have given us the freest nation in the world, and the next generation and the one after that deserve the same gift of freedom. I am proud to be a direct descendent of General John Stark who said, “Live free or die.” New Hampshire’s members of Congress, Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, need to stop voting against our individual liberties. They need to stop treading on us and let us live free.
Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.