Cynthia Lummis: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Privacy

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis writes, "While I am concerned about private companies having unfettered access to our data, I believe it is equally, if not more dangerous, for any government to have that same access."

June 13, 20235 min read

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We are more connected now than at any time in our history. People in Wyoming can call loved ones across the country. We can consult with our doctors via telehealth. We can submit claims to the Veterans’ Administration online. We can send money with a few simple clicks. 

With the benefits these new technologies bring, especially for those of us living in a rural state like Wyoming, we also expose ourselves to new risks to our privacy. Big tech companies use our browsing history online to make money by selling targeted ads. Data brokers collect our location data and purchase histories and sell them to anyone willing to pay. Data breaches frequently put sensitive personal information in the hands of criminals, exposing us to risks of identity theft. Even our own government buys vast quantities of Americans’ personal data. 

We share information and data in milliseconds instead of hours or days. Our photos, biographical information and even social security numbers are shared and stored online. 

With so much of our lives taking place online, we need to have strong protections to guard us from privacy invasions. Unfortunately, many of the laws meant to protect our privacy are outdated and written for an era when smartphones and the modern internet were not a daily reality for most Americans.

People in Wyoming deserve to make informed decisions about their data, but how can we be expected to know what privacy risks we might face when those details are buried in lengthy terms of service? This is a completely different world than the writers of our Constitution had ever considered. 

This leads us to a new existential question. How much freedom do we truly have if we cannot control what happens with our information? If we do not know who has access to our data and what they are doing with it, can we even be confident we are truly free? 

My answer to this question is ‘no.’ We are not truly free if we are not in control of our own data. In this day in age, that presents a variety of challenges. So much of who we are is already online. The Pandora’s box is open. However, I do not believe that hope is lost, yet one of the solutions –  government intervention –  also has potential to be the problem.

While I am concerned about private companies having unfettered access to our data, I believe it is equally, if not more dangerous, for any government to have that same access. 

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” 

Franklin could never have anticipated just how much freedom his fellow Americans would give up under the guise of connectedness and convenience, and to be frank, I am not sure many of us fully understand how much we are actually giving up.

Most of us do not understand how much of our identity is online, and we are certainly not fully aware of who all has access to that information. This is a dangerous game, and it is the duty of our government to not try to gain access and use that data, but instead to safeguard it and make sure that Americans have access to the information they need to secure their identities and make wise decisions when interacting online. 

That begins, first and foremost, with the information Americans give to the government online. Every service, from tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service to care from the Veterans’ Administration, requires some sort of online footprint. While this has the potential to make these services quicker and easier for Americans, it also opens us up to risk. 

Is our government using top of the line security to keep our information safe? Are those government employees accessing our data acting in good faith? Currently, I do not have confidence in that.

That is why I am working to ensure the government is not in a position to abuse our data and that we are also protected from private companies that are all too happy to monetize our digital identities. I sit on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which has broad jurisdiction over the internet, technology, communications and consumer protection. I am using this position to protect children online, safeguard health data, stop government surveillance, prevent identity theft and address the emerging privacy concerns within Artificial Intelligence. 

We often say that, in Wyoming, we don’t use turning signals because it’s none of anyone’s darn business where we are going. When it comes to your personal data, I believe the same sentiment applies and that is why I have become one of the Senate’s most stalwart champions for data privacy. 

The people of Wyoming value their privacy, and they value a government that does not infringe on their rights. True liberty is not possible without privacy and I will continue to be a fierce defender of both in the United States Senate. 

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