Hypocrisy in politics is nothing new. But Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) set a new standard for it last week when he and three of his colleagues attacked social networking giant Facebook over its privacy practices. In a scathing letter, the senators demanded that Facebook change certain features to give users greater “control over their information.” The real threat to privacy, however, comes not from innovative companies like Facebook, but from posturing politicians.
Naturally, politicians saw this controversy as a chance to score political points by getting involved. Sen. Schumer and company asked federal regulators to “recommend” privacy guidelines for social networking sites, and are reportedly on the verge of introducing legislation to regulate online privacy.
One moment, Sen. Schumer implores Facebook to change its privacy policies. The next, he’s leading the push in Congress to require all Americans to have national ID cards. Unlike social networking sites, which are entirely voluntary, Americans will not be able to “opt out” of Schumer’s national ID scheme. (Schumer’s proposal even requires citizens’ biometric information, like an iris scan or fingerprint.)
Perhaps Sen. Schumer could use a dose of his own privacy medicine.
National ID cards are just the tip of the iceberg. From lost laptops to warrantless wiretaps, the federal government is America’s single biggest privacy violator. The private sector, on the other hand, must compete to win over consumers. When companies make privacy mistakes, their customers go elsewhere. When bureaucrats mess up, their agencies get bigger budgets. In their drive to regulate Facebook’s privacy practices, Schumer and company ignore this crucial distinction.
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