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What a Trump presidency means for your online security and privacy

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

10 November 2016

This week, Donald Trump swept to victory in the US presidential election. The now President-elect will be sworn into office in January 2017.

But what will a Trump presidency mean for your privacy and online security?

Let’s look at his policies, or where they’re not available, about his public positions on these matters, and see what that means for you.


Trump’s website is vague about exact strategies regarding cybersecurity, instead advocating for an immediate review of US cyber defences “ by a Cyber Review Team of individuals from the military, law enforcement, and the private sector “, with a goal of recommending the best defence technologies.

He wants to bring federal, state and local law enforcements together to deal with cyber attacks, and wants to enhance the US Cyber Command.


Trump’s official website offers nothing on the issue of online privacy, but his views on surveillance seem to suggest that he may institute greater freedoms for the FBI and law enforcement authorities to enhance their surveillance programs.

Earlier this year, Trump said on the Hugh Hewitt show that he would be “fine” with restoring the Patriot Act, and that he supports bulk data collection by the NSA, subject to individual court rulings on the use of this data:

I support legislation which allows the NSA to hold the bulk metadata. For oversight, I propose that a court, which is available any time on any day, is created to issue individual rulings on when this metadata can be accessed. **


He also implied that he believes that privacy has to be sacrificed for the sake of security:

I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth. It’s pretty sad commentary, but I err on the side of security

However, when discussing student data mining, he seemed to contradict himself and took a pro-privacy stance, though with little detail:

You have to have privacy. You have to have privacy. So I’d close all of it. But, most of all, I’d get everything out of Washington, because that’s where it’s all emanating from.


During the FBI vs Apple situation earlier this year, in which Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company would not allow the FBI backdoors into their devices despite a court order to do so, Trump took a very definite stance onside with the FBI:

I agree 100 percent with the courts. In that case we should open [the iPhone] up. We have to use our heads, we have to use common sense.

To think that Apple won’t allow us to get into [the shooter’s] cellphone? Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it up.

A few days later at a rally in South Carolina, Trump suggested that voters should boycott Apple “until such time as they give that security number”. This seems to show that Trump is in favour of forcing tech companies to build law enforcement backdoors into their encrypted devices and other systems, which would greatly and negatively impact the privacy of users.

Internet freedom

In December 2015, during the fifth televised Republican debate, Trump advocated closing off parts of the internet:

I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes sir, I am.**


He later clarified:

I’m not talking about closing the Internet. I’m talking about closing parts of the Internet where ISIS is.

Although this seems to be an unworkable proposition, it does signal that Trump would be willing to sacrifice a free and open internet for the sake of national security, which is a dangerous position for a president to take.

So what does it all mean?  

While it’s hard to pin down exactly what Trump’s opinions on privacy and online security are, his comments seem to show that he would be in favour of increasing surveillance and bulk metadata collection, enforcing tech companies to build backdoors into their systems, and potentially throttling internet access and internet freedom.

How this transfers to real action, however, is yet to be seen.

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