What does Jefferson Sessions mean for tech liberties?

Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Jefferson Sessions as Attorney General. This was a key appointment in Trump’s campaign to consolidate his power, and bad for liberties of all kind, including data privacy.

In general, he’s a vile person. Sessions “has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda.” Stephen Bannon says so. He isn’t going to stand in the way, as his Sally Yates did, when Trump issues illegal and unconstitutional orders.

We may quote (even though Elizabeth Warren may not) Coretta Scott King’s testimony against Sessions:

The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern. Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government’s case. Also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. Witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the “correct” testimony.

Some think the Republicans’ silencing of Sen. Warren was a “blunder,” because it increased the attention that Mrs. King’s statement got. No, it was a calculated, symbolic attack on free speech and a statement to Trump’s supporters that her statement is an official untruth.

But the question for this blog is how he will affect tech-related liberties and privacy from US snooping. The news is bad.

Neema Singh Guliani, an ACLU legislative counsel, has said, “When it comes to privacy and mass surveillance, Sessions has repeatedly been on the wrong side of the Constitution.” As a senator, he voted against the USA Freedom Act, which restricted the NSA’s ability to collect bulk telephone records.

His record on Internet gambling isn’t fully clear, he co-sponsored the “Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997,” which didn’t pass. His supposed motivation was “how easy it is for children to pick-up their parents’ credit cards and gamble on the Internet,” but the prohibition would have applied to everyone. As attorney general, he can’t overtly change the law, but he can give it a broad interpretation and promote aggressive prosecutions.

He’s against H-1B visas which let tech companies bring in foreign workers with valuable skills.

With some searching, I was able to find one good tech-related position he’s taken. He voted in 2009 to prohibit a revival of the Fairness Doctrine. Back when it existed, it made the FCC the arbiter of “fair” presentation of viewpoints in broadcasting, stifling the presentation of controversial material.

That’s not much consolation, though. Look for more government spying and support for unlimited presidential power, and less justice, from the Justice Department.

(Sorry about the appearance of the blog today. I was fighting a losing battle with the Chateau theme and decided I had to move to something else. My Internet connection is slow today, so I did the best I could. Look for something better soon.)

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Gary McGath

I am a freelance writer, author of the books _Files that Last_ and _Tomorrow's Songs Today_, with a strong background in software development, file formats, and digital preservation.

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