Monday, July 16, 2012

When will the Candidates release their Google search histories?

Witness the naked speculation of punditry land in this piece at Salon by Joan Walsh. Complete with a worried-looking Romney photo, it's an open hit piece suggesting Romney has "something to hide" in his tax returns:
George Will made a point that Democrats have made before him, but his conservative credibility and capacity for pronouncements from on high gave it special resonance: Romney’s older tax returns must contain more damaging information than what we already know, since he’s so intent on hiding them.
Ms. Walsh is not alone on this; the talking points have gone out and the mainstream media has responded in full. Everyone is jumping on the issue, on Romney's "tax return problem." By and large, they're all insisting that he should make all of his tax returns public, that not doing so is some sort of refusal on Romney's part to...well, give the pundits what they want. Because the reality of the matter is that federal election law imposes no requirement on candidates to release their tax returns. Not the returns for one year. Not for two years. And certainly not ten or twenty years worth.

One would think--listening to the self-important pundits--that Romney was behaving almost criminally for not  providing boxes of documents for the media to sift through (my last two tax returns were over fifty pages long each, and I'm hardly in Romney's bracket). Because let's be clear about this: the electorate doesn't want to see Romney's tax returns (nor were they interested in McCain's or Kerry's in previous election years). Hell, they can't--for the most part--even be counted on to read a Supreme Court decision in full. Such heavy lifting--appropriate for a citizenry that chooses to be informed--is left for others, for pundits, for "journalists."

But these latter two groups aren't doing that lifting to inform the citizenry, by and large. They're doing it in hopes of finding a "gotcha" moment or of advancing their partisan desires, or both. The idea that Romney needs to release these documents, that not doing so is some sort slap in the face to the electorate is crap. What it is is a slap in the face to the ones making a stink about the information, the "journalists" who suppose they have special needs and special prerogatives, when it comes to personal and/or private information.

In that regard, they're almost as bad as the Federal Government.

Remember the flak around the government's request (via a subpoena)--from Google, Yahoo, and other internet search providers--for search query data back in 2006? It actually wasn't terrorism related; it was in reference to litigation over the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and its constitutionality. All of the companies complied with the subpoena except for Google, which fought it in court. In the end, Google turned over a limited sample of queries, winning a partial victory.

At the time, outrage was flowing freely throughout the net (mostly as a result of a complete misunderstanding with regard to what information the Feds were seeking). Google became the hero, willing to stand up to the evil tyranny of the government, which was supposedly seeking personal information of Google users (it wasn't in actuality; no ISP numbers associated with search terms were desired). The outrage continued, unabated, for months. The issue was supposedly Freedom, after all: the freedom to browse the web without fear, secure in the knowledge that the government could not monitor internet activity.

And for people then--and still today--Freedom began and ended on the internet. That begs the question: how could we have ever been free before there was an internet? Because here's the rub: the government already has access to all kinds of personal information, information that is far more significant than web browsing habits. From the IRS to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Census to countless other government agencies, personal details are in the government's hands. It knows how much most of us make in wages, where we work, what we've saved for retirement, how much we pay for our mortgages and insurance, where we invest our money (and how much), our marriage status, how many children we have, all kinds of health-related stats, and on and on and on.

Somehow, no one--for the most part--finds any of this invasive. People accept it all with minimal protest. But suggest the government may get a look at your Google search terms? NO WAY! That's over the line!

I'd suggest that we're quickly losing sight of what freedom really is, what it really means. We've willingly sacrificed our own personal and private histories with nary a word. And in that regard, we willing empower a mindset that advances this notion whenever possible.

Do you actually care what Romney's tax returns were in 2004? The IRS apparently accepted them. If he was audited, it's a long time over now. If you do care, then are you willing to reveal your tax returns for public scrutiny, too, perhaps as a precondition for your right to vote? Citizens in this country get to run for office. In that regard, their public actions are open for scrutiny, and rightly so. Personal details that say nothing about their ability to govern? Sorry, no. That's just the tabloid mentality creeping into the public discourse, and we're all worse off because of it.

If we're really going to go down that road, I ask--nay demand--that both candidates make all of their internet search histories available, forthwith!

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. I was browsing from since morning in search of music notes in that search sudden i got your post its really nice and interesting also.