On many levels, the advent of the Internet fundamentally transformed our society, giving us access to information literally at our fingertips.
Without question, it offers a lot of good. But it also exposes our personal information in ways that decades ago would have been unimaginable. Little did we know that what we would have to worry about would be our own government spying on us as we surf the net.
Like many Californians, I have been troubled by revelations over the last year of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities online. With a recent report now alleging that the NSA posed as Facebook in order to contaminate computers with malware, it is just one more misstep eroding confidence in our government.
The report prompted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to call the President directly. In a post online, Zuckerberg wrote, “The U.S. government should be a champion for the Internet, not a threat. They need to be more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.” Unfortunately, Americans already are.
Yes, the federal government has owned up to several of its surveillance programs, but it still keeps many activities suspiciously close to the chest. While protecting our privacy remains a top concern, the situation also calls into question the issue of transparency and what taxpayers have a right to know about our government’s doings behind closed doors.
Here in California, Sacramento is plagued by its own transparency problems.
Too often, decisions are hidden away from public view and made in just a matter of hours despite the fact that they impact our everyday lives, from determining how much to spend on our kids’ education to how we go about fixing our roads and highways. As a matter of principle, the basic process of passing a new law should be one of our most open processes.
To make government more open and accountable, I authored Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, which would force the Legislature to make bill information available to the public at least 72 hours before any vote. You have a right to know when a bill will be voted on and what it will do so that you can voice support or opposition.
But the Legislature is not the only government entity shying away from transparency.
In another incident, media reports exposed how our state’s health care exchange, Covered California, gave consumers’ personal contact information to third party insurance telemarketers without their permission.
Cold calls from these companies rightly made Californians uneasy and called into question just how far-reaching the agency has gone when it comes to making decisions that put your privacy on the line. By giving out this information freely, it begs the question: is other, more sensitive information at risk?
Perhaps what is most disturbing about these scenarios, however, is that we only find out about these practices when government is caught in the act. Even then, it is a mere acknowledgement, with hardly a hint of regret or remorse. This needs to change.
Our government – whether at the federal, state or local level – cannot operate in a vacuum, free from scrutiny and accountability. If its authority is allowed to go unchecked, we jeopardize the very principles that built our nation and have kept us free.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on having a government that is of, by, and for the people. If this is truly the case, then it must also be one that is transparent, upfront, and open.
Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, represents the 12th Assembly District in the California Legislature, which includes portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties in the Central Valley.