Human rights are not a partisan issue. In fact, in the U.S. and around the world, staff from Access Now routinely work with people from political parties across the spectrum, including Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Libertarians, Pirates, and everything in between. And that is why when we say that the first 100 days of the current U.S. administration’s term have been a disaster for human rights, we aren’t saying it to be political. We’re saying it because it’s a problem.
Access Now’s office in Washington, D.C. was staffed primarily in 2014, in the final years of the Obama Administration. At the time, we frequently took issue with the negative impact the administration’s actions were having on our human rights, tackling issues from surveillance to encryption and beyond. However, nothing we saw then could have prepared us for what we have witnessed in the first few months of 2017.
Simply put, when President Trump hits the 100th day benchmark on Saturday, April 29, he and his administration will have taken — or prepared to take — a series of actions with massive negative consequences for human rights all around the globe, some of which will darken the U.S. human rights record for generations to come. Below we detail five that are related to our mission of defending and extending the digital rights of users at risk, and describe what we’re doing to fight back.
The administration has:
1.) Imposed a discriminatory, over-broad travel ban and moved to expand the harmful “password for entry” plan
After having been in office for barely a week, President Trump signed the first executive order authorizing a travel ban of visitors to the U.S. from a number of Muslim-majority countries. The order was quickly blocked by judges who questioned its constitutionality, and was eventually abandoned in favor of a second, very slightly narrower, executive order, which was then also blocked. In the meantime, officials under the president moved to expand the deeply misguided Obama-era policy asking visitors to hand over their social media account information at the border. The new U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, has signaled interest in going even further, not just asking but requiring that some visitors turn over their social media passwords as a condition for entry to the U.S.
Access Now opposed every one of these steps and recently launched FlyDontSpy.com with several of our partners to fight any and every policy that would require disclosure of passwords at the border. Not only would a policy like this demolish our rights and harm digital security, it would set a disastrous global precedent, potentially leading nations around the world — including those with authoritarian regimes — to reciprocally demand completely unwarranted, disproportionate access to our digital lives when we travel.
2.) Removed badly needed broadband privacy protections, taking control away from internet users
When the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promulgated regulations on broadband privacy in late 2016, Access Now applauded the agency for its leadership. These rules would not only have protected internet users in the U.S., they would have set a positive example for other governments to follow. However, it was only a few months into President Trump’s term that the U.S. Congress — acting with the president’s full support — repealed these rules in full by invoking the rarely used Congressional Review Act. In an age of (big) data exploitation, this move stripped millions of internet users of a framework for protecting their rights and avenues for remedy if their data are abused. We fought the repeal of the rules, and we will continue to fight for policy that protects people and puts them in control of their own data.
3.) Appointed advocates of surveillance to leadership roles, while leaving vacant the positions for protection and oversight
Even before he was sworn into office, then-President Elect Trump showed his disdain for human rights by announcing as his nominees to top government positions several people with extreme views on surveillance. His nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Mike Pompeo as CIA Director in November 2016, and Dan Coats for Director of National Intelligence in January 2017, sent an unmistakable pro-surveillance, anti-reform message. All three men independently criticized even the notion of surveillance reform and opposed the USA FREEDOM Act, even though it had the support of intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency (NSA).
At the same time, despite the fact that the U.S. Senate confirmed all three men (among other troubling appointees), the administration has left vacant key positions tasked with government oversight and protecting our rights. The seats that remain empty include several positions at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, commissioners at both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the FCC, and a chairperson and members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).
Access Now has flagged in the European legislature that these appointments and vacancies stand as evidence that the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield will not withstand scrutiny. We have also renewed our call for reform of U.S. surveillance authorities that sunset at the end of 2017.
4.) Repeatedly attacked free speech and journalism
The rights to the freedom of expression and freedom of the press are central to a fully functioning democracy, and they are often the first victims of authoritarian governments. President Trump and his top advisers have repeatedly demonstrated an open, profoundly dangerous hostility to these rights. Trump and his stop staff members routinely use the term “fake news” to describe news outlets that report information that’s not favorable to the administration, attack individual journalists, and promote what his own staff call “alternative facts.” The president has also openly threatened to support new laws to undermine the First Amendment protections and make it easier to file lawsuits against journalists. The administration has also issued new social media guidelines for federal agencies, presumably to stem the distribution of scientific information with facts that run contrary to the president’s agenda. Access Now has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get more information about how this change will impact transparency and public oversight. In addition, we’re seeing more free expression cases for our 24/7 Digital Security Helpline originating in the U.S., and we’re working to protect individuals who may be under attack.
5.) Stripped the limited rights available to non-U.S. citizens and threatened abuse of their privacy
After only five short days in office, President Trump issued an executive order on “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” This measure restricts protections under the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974 to U.S. persons except as provided for by law, indicating the administration’s disregard for any non-U.S. person’s capacity to access or correct data held on them by U.S. government agencies. Before the order, agency policy was generally to provide Privacy Act protections to all people with information in “mixed” databases — that is, databases that contain information about Americans and people from the rest of the world. The remedy was already limited — the Privacy Act is fairly narrow to begin with, and it would apply only in certain circumstances. Yet it was some protection for people who are typically afforded few or no rights by the U.S. government. President Trump emphasized his disdain for the human rights of all people by tossing out that protection in favor of greater access to the data of innocent people around the world. We continue to push for human rights for everyone, all around the world, and for government agencies globally to recognize those rights.
These are not the only rights-violating actions and policies we’ve seen in the last 100 days, nor are they necessarily the worst. But taken together, they demonstrate clearly and unequivocally the degree of human rights advocacy and protection we can expect from President Trump: approximately zero. At Access Now, we’re working around the clock to protect users at risk. We’ve been with you for these last 100 days, and we’ll be there for you the next 1,360. Let’s work together to resist these and any other attacks on our fundamental rights — in the U.S. and all across the globe.