The State of the Union: What Wasn’t Said

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President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address last night was remarkable for two reasons: for what he said, and for what he didn’t say.

The president took enormous pride last night in claiming to have helped “extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth.”

But he failed to mention that Congress passed a law at the start of this year to extend unconstitutional, invasive NSA surveillance powers. Before it passed the House, the Senate, and received the president’s signature, the law was misrepresented by several members of Congress and by the president himself.

On the morning the House of Representatives voted to move the law to the Senate, the president weighed in on Twitter, saying that “today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.”

Make no mistake: the bill he eventually signed—S. 139—very much affects American citizens. That bill reauthorized Section 702 original enacted as part of the FISA Amendments Act—a legal authority the NSA uses to justify its collection of countless Americans’ emails, chat logs, and browsing history without first obtaining a warrant. The surveillance allowed under this law operates largely in the dark and violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Elsewhere in his speech, the president trumpeted a future America with rebuilt public infrastructure. He foretold of “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land.”

What the president didn’t say, again, is worrying. The president failed to mention that the Federal Communications Commission, now led by his personal choice in chairman, made significant steps in dismantling another public good: the Internet.

Last year, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules, subjecting Americans to an Internet that chooses winners and losers, fast lanes and slow ones. The FCC’s order leaves Americans open to abuse by well-funded corporations that can simply pay to have their services delivered more reliably—and quickly—on the Internet, and it creates a system where independent business owners and artists are at a disadvantage to have their online content viewed by others.

And the president last night mentioned fair trade deals and intellectual property. He complimented his administration’s efforts in rebalancing “unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our Nation’s wealth.” He promised to “protect American workers and American intellectual property through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”

Trump didn’t mention that the United States’ demands for the copyright and patent sections of a renegotiated NAFTA closely mirror those of the TPP, with its unfair expansion of copyright law. It’s ironic that one of the TPP’s most vocal critics would seemingly champion one of its most dangerous components.

The president gave Americans a highlight reel last night about his perceived accomplishments. But he neglected to tell the full story about his first year in the White House.

As civil liberties are threatened and constitutional rights are violated, EFF is continuing to fight. We are still supporting net neutrality. We are still taking the NSA to court over unconstitutional surveillance. And we are still working to protect and expand your rights in the digital world, wherever the fight may take us.


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Author: David Ruiz

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