Monday, June 1, 2015

Yes, right privacy activism is actually rooted in racism

Salon has published a pretty flimsy article arguing that Rand Paul opposes the Patriot Act because he fails to see the egalitarianism of bulk data collection.

This isn't a very plausible analysis -- but let's not go too crazy here. Ultimately, Paul opposes the Patriot Act because he's a Libertarian who opposes the government in general. And Libertarianism in general is certainly a rationalization of white privilege. It's what you believe when you've never needed the government to protect you from racism. It's what you believe when you've only ever experienced the government as a check on your power. Rand Paul, remember, is the guy who thinks that we didn't need a Civil Rights Act because free market. That's how he sees the world.

Moreover, it's worth remembering that even Rand Paul's supposedly principled concerns about civil liberties end at America's borders. He has been explicit about this. His opposition to the Patriot Act is driven exclusively by American interests, and particularly by an overwhelmingly aging white male constituency. None of this is surprising. Minority privacy concerns mostly involve local policing policies like stop-and-frisk; the prospect of the NSA reading your Facebook posts or counting your bitcoins is primarily a white people problem. Paul sets his priorities accordingly.

Finally, it's easy to forget that less than a decade ago, mainstream Republicans openly and actively agitated for ethnic profiling as a common-sense anti-terrorism tactic -- particularly against the Muslim community. And the most common and effective rebuttal, then, was the left's call for "an evidence-based approach to intelligence gathering," as Jamali puts it. Gathering that intelligence through bulk data collection is, of course, a significant step beyond this basic call for neutrality. Nevertheless, it's completely understandable if a man routinely mistaken for a Muslim -- who "regularly puts up with extra scrutiny, whether it’s at an airport or a shopping mall" -- finds NSA surveillance less personally invasive than constant pat-downs by armed strangers.

Ultimately, Jamali's reading of Paul's motivations is wrong, as is his defense of bulk data collection. But the two major premises his critics on the right will object to are absolutely correct. Paul's Libertarian politics are rooted in white privilege. And the right is mostly fine with bigoted profiling as an alternative.