The US Needs to Act on Refugees, but Not Like Trump

Refugees are desperate for help. Source: Reuters/Umit Bektas

Originally published by

The US Department of State’s webpage dedicated to the Syrian refugee crisis begins with this quote:

The families of two of my predecessors, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, escaped Hitler and Stalin, and they landed on the shores of our county, like so many other American families centuries earlier, all of whom came here yearning and hoping for a brighter future. — Secretary Kerry

It is a powerful statement that reminds us that the US is a nation built on immigration. Many of the country’s high achievers were immigrants or were descendants of immigrants, often times fleeing from catastrophes.

One would think that the remaining page would outline a powerful policy approach for aggressively accepting foreign refugees who have fled their homes, many with children in their arms, running for their lives from gruesome wars in Syria and Iraq. But that is not the case. The official stance laid out by the US State Department is something along the lines of, a lot of people want to help. We have donated money. You can too.

Monetary donations to charitable causes are important. But in the case of the refugee crisis, in which millions of people continue to pour out of Syria and Iraq, there is a much bigger moral obligation that the US is falling short of.

Due to the ocean that separates the US from Europe and the Middle East, refugees are not piled up at the borders like they are in Greece, Turkey, Germany, Lebanon, and Jordan. This has had an out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect on the agendas of both policy makers and the public.

The refugee crisis rose to the top of the media agenda for brief period earlier this year but has since fizzled out. Somewhat ironically, Donald Trump has kept the issue in the public conversation, but only because he ties the refugees to terrorists and has set forth a ridiculous problem solving solution of banning Muslims from entering the country.

Listening to the current political discourse, the political will for refugee resettlement is not there, and appears to be in the opposite direction. Trump is a manifestation of anti-immigrant, xenophobic, nationalistic fever that has engrossed a loud minority of the American public.

Often, complex problems are thought to be solved with easy solutions. In this case, some Americans feel the sands of change shifting beneath their feet and are scapegoating the people of the Middle East and other immigrants as the obvious causes of their insecurities. The thinking is that letting more Muslims in would open the doors for terrorists.

Yes, the threat of terrorism should be taken seriously. Yes, there should be security screenings conducted before accepting people into the US. But the point of terrorism is to inspire terror. And in this regard, the terrorists are winning. A person in the US is more likely to be killed by furniture in their living room than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Yet, many people endorse blanket discrimination against entire groups of people over their religious beliefs and where they are from out of fear that the terrorists will take down the country.

The voices that are against resettlement — the ban Muslims group, the build a wall group — are dominating the conversation. They are a loud minority that provide good sound bites and headlines. As such, they are given a disproportionate amount of media coverage, which is silencing the much quieter voices who are in favor of more action. There is a lack of brave leadership willing to take on this issue. There is a deafening silence from leaders who are willing to stand up to the belligerence.

Millions of people are being propelled from their homes searching for a way to save themselves and the lives of their families. This is a situation where the United States could demonstrate to the world, and to ourselves, that we can use our so-called Super Power status for good rather than destruction. Failing to act will perpetuate resentment and hate toward the US, and deepen the wounds of deeply wounded people.

This is not only a humanitarian issue, but also the responsibility of the US and other Western countries to share the burden of the disaster that is occurring in Syria and Iraq. After decades of stirring the pot by way of imperialism, support of and opposition to various governments, funding and arming rebel groups, coups, wars, exploitation, feigned liberation, and righteous indignation — the West owes a debt. And the bill is due.

Tech-Giants Change Course, Take on Government Over Data

Apple Store Flag (Source: USC Annenberg)

Originally published on May 11, 2016 by Britt Christensen

In the perpetual struggle over privacy and security, the pendulum is swinging mightily towards privacy. Several major technology companies — Apple, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Google, and Facebook, among others — are taking aggressive stances against the US Government’s surveillance of individuals’ digital information.

The tech-giants’ actions are likely only the beginning of a heated debate that is one of the defining contemporary issues. In a global society inundated with technology, the outcomes of the privacy vs security battles will shape the relationship that societies have with both governments and major data-collecting corporations for years to come.

The feud over individuals’ rights to privacy and governments’ quest to maintain security is an old duel, but one that is more relevant now than ever. Through the use of communication technologies — text messaging, internet searches, social media, etc. — people are producing data at a higher rate than ever before.

Companies use these data to build profiles on consumers and sell the information to other companies. Governments view the trove of data as a treasure of information that could provide valuable leads to stopping security threats. Today, the main threat is terrorism.

Until now, corporations have been working with the government to allow access to users’ information, but that is changing. In the most visible recent case, Apple stood firm in a highly publicized bout with the FBI over refusing to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooter’s. The tussle came to an end after the FBI hacked their way around needing permission. In show of solidarity, Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and WhatsApp announced intentions to stand on the shoulders of Apple, as they will increase encryption of user data.

A lot of the credit is going to Apple’s public stance against the FBI; however, all of these companies are standing on the shoulders of Edward Snowden. Indeed, it is tough to ignore the notion that this issue would not have so much momentum if Snowden had not shone a bright light on the uses and abuses of user data by the US and other governments.

Up until 2013, the US Government was operating a colossal covert, and largely illegal, data collection and surveillance program with the cooperation of the technology companies. The scope of the data collection practice was largely unknown, or at least widely undiscussed, until Edward Snowden released massive amounts of evidence that pulled off the veil of secrecy that protected the program.

These revelations thrust the issue to the top of the media agenda, raised public awareness, and showed the extent of a massive surveillance system operating in the US as a public-private partnership.

Snowden’s main concerns were the blatant violations of individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Along these lines, Microsoft is invoking the First and Fourth Amendments in a lawsuit against the US Justice Department, claiming the government is infringing on freedom of expression and individuals’ right to privacy.

Source: newtekblog

Meanwhile, President Obama is on the offensive by making a point of this issue in his recent trip to Germany. “I want to say this to young people who value their privacy and spend a lot of time on their phones: The threat of terrorism is real,” Mr. Obama said, during a speech.

Many of the companies have demonstrated an openness to assist the government in stopping terrorists from using their platforms to disperse extremist messages. But the willingness of the companies to assist the government are changing as they are now wanting the government obey the laws, as well as creating new rules of surveillance.

Perhaps the tech-giants do care about championing our constitutional rights. It is also possible, however, that this is a publicity stunt seen as an opportunity to gain public favor and cultivate customer loyalty.

To be sure, the global discussion about mass surveillance that Snowden ignited is ablaze. The big and important technology companies are responding with aggressive privacy policies. While this is an important step by the tech companies, the public should remain cautious about throwing unquestioned support behind the supposed benevolent motives of the corporations.

Corporations are likely to prioritize profits above consumer protection. At least some of the reasons for the tech-companies’ actions are probably a response to perceived increase in popularity of privacy issues.

At the same time, it is paramount that the government engages in this conversation in an open way that reflects the reality of the threats, while maintaining the integrity of the public’s right to privacy. We have reached a point where citizens are dependent on corporations for protection against the government, instead of looking to the government for protection. And that is not necessarily a positive development.