Why the Net Likes Bush

It’s been a mystery to me why most people in the Internet industry seem to prefer George W. Bush for president to Al Gore.

It may be we’re all lifelong, committed, hard-core Republicans who would vote for the GOP if it ran a yellow dog. But it’s not likely.

It may be that y’all simply agree with G.W.B. on social, economic, or foreign-policy issues. If that’s the case, what follows won’t matter to you because I write about the Internet, and I usually look for my answers in terms of the Internet.

I picked up a Clue, however, as I was packing my bags to leave the Jupiter Online Advertising Forum last week. It was in the middle of the “privacy” forum dubbed “The New Data Brokers: Profiling and Portable Identity.”

Something said by Dan Jaye, cofounder and chief technology officer for Engage, made me reach for pen and paper after closing down my laptop. (I apologize if the quote’s a bit garbled as a result.) “People are concerned you say you’ll do one thing with their data but do something different later, under the pressure of changing business conditions or a subpoena.”

It was that last word that got me. People are far less afraid that you’ll build a profile of their lifestyle to sell them shampoo than that the government (hereinafter referred to as the “guvmint”) will do so to see if you may be a pot smoker or some other enemy of the state.

An FBI system dubbed “Project Carnivore” plays to these fears. The idea is for the guvmint to intercept all email at major ISPs so it can track suspects’ messages under court orders. The launch of Carnivore follows a losing battle throughout the Clinton Administration to limit the use of encryption technology. (The Administration is presently looking into the damages of encryption.)

Wiretap orders are sealed; otherwise, they wouldn’t be useful. A prosecutor goes to a judge, shows reasonable suspicion that someone is doing something nasty, and police-friendly judges sign most orders routinely (at least they do on “Law & Order“).

This may be apocryphal, but it’s said that when Clinton came into office as a proponent of encryption, the CIA handed him a report on what all our international adversaries were doing, then told him point-blank that the reports would disappear unless he fought hard against encryption and other forms of privacy protection. I’m guessing the vice president was in the room at the time.

But the fact is the battle over encryption began during the Bush administration. Back then the guvmint maintained a huge “black budget” – CIA appropriations whose size and use were classified for national security reasons – money even Congress didn’t know about. (They may still do it, but the numbers may be smaller.) I haven’t heard of G.W.B. repudiating his dad or anything – in fact he seems to be relying on many of the same advisors.

There’s no conspiracy here. All I’m saying is that the two candidates are probably in general agreement over the “need” for the police to snoop on what you do and say online, along with the “need” for all the Orwellian technologies and systems emerging from that. The main difference seems to be that we know it’s true for Gore, and Bush ain’t saying. So who says ignorance is bliss?

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