December 19, 2016 | By Kate Tummarello

Trump and His Advisors on Surveillance, Encryption, Cybersecurity

Donald Trump's silhouette and a laptop with an eye on the screen.Where will the incoming Trump administration come down on issues like surveillance, encryption, and cybersecurity? While it is impossible to know the future, we have collected everything we could find about the stated positions of Trump and those likely to be in his administration on these crucial digital privacy issues. If you are aware of any additional statements that we have not included, please email kate@eff.org with a link to your source material, and we will consider it for inclusion.

Surveillance

During the 2016 campaign Trump made a series of statements about how he wants to expand the country’s surveillance apparatus. In late 2015, Trump said in an interview he tends “to err on the side of security” and that restoring parts of the Patriot Act that have been amended would “be fine.”

“When you have people that are beheading [you] if you’re a Christian and, frankly, for lots of other reasons, when you have the world looking at us and would like to destroy us as quickly as possible, I err on the side of security.”

Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Republican Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, has also defended the country’s sweeping surveillance program and protested any narrow restraints placed on government surveillance.

When Congress passed a series of modest surveillance reforms in the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015, many Republicans joined the bipartisan effort to protect civil liberties. But Pompeo later introduced legislation that would undo many of the changes in the USA FREEDOM Act. “To share Edward Snowden’s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama’s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis,” he wrote in a 2015 op-ed.

Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions felt similarly, penning an op-ed against USA FREEDOM that said the bulk phone records collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act was “subject to extraordinary oversight” and warned the bill “would make it vastly more difficult for the NSA to stop a terrorist than it is to stop a tax cheat.”

On the domestic surveillance front, Sessions also helped to derail a bill in the Senate that would have required law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing stored electronic communications, like emails.

Trump has also called for specific surveillance of targeted communities, including Muslims. Early in the campaign, he said he supports surveillance of mosques and that he “would certainly implement” a database for Muslim Americans.

When asked about the possibility of warrantless searches of Muslim Americans by Yahoo News, Trump said, “everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”

“And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Trump has also been critical of former government contractor Edward Snowden, whose 2013 leaks shed light on NSA surveillance programs. In 2013, Trump called Snowden a “terrible threat” and a “terrible traitor,” threatening that the U.S. should do to Snowden “what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country.”

Pompeo went further, saying on CSPAN that Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.” 

Encryption

On encryption, Trump said in early 2016 that Apple should have to make available data stored on an iPhone linked to the shooter in last year’s attack in San Bernardino, California. Apple repeatedly challenged the FBI’s demands that the company build a tool to access the secure data on the encrypted device.

"But to think that Apple won't allow us to get into her cell phone," Trump said in an interview. "Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up."

Trump also famously called for a boycott of Apple until the company helped to unlock the device, criticizing Apple CEO Tim Cook for “looking to do a big number, probably to show how liberal he is.”

Cybersecurity

Trump pledged to boost the country’s cybersecurity protections if elected, calling cybersecurity “the future of warfare.” He said he would be more aggressive in using cyber attacks against opponents including terrorists and would create an international task force to deal with hacks.

Trump has also repeatedly cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assertion that Russia was behind the damaging DNC hack during the 2016 campaign. At a rally during the campaign, he guessed the people behind the hack could be Chinese or “a 400 pound person sitting in bed,” and he said he envied their abilities. “I wish I had that power,” he said. “Man, that would be power.”

Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, has also suggested a more aggressive approach to cybersecurity and has called the United States’ cyber capabilities “underwhelming.”

"We cannot win playing on one side of the playing field, on the defensive end. …You only are going to win if you go on the offensive once in a while.”

He has also called for a task force on cybersecurity composed of private sector representatives and federal and state government officials, and he has suggested that the country have a “story-teller in chief” to translate complex cyber issues to a lay audience.

This blog post is part of a campaign asking the tech community to defend users and digital rights. Have we missed something? Send us any additional statements from Trump and his advisors about surveillance, encryption, and cybersecurity by emailing kate@eff.org


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