In the Republican’s war against Big Tech, it’s time to for them to quit pretending that they want to protect free speech while systematically destroying it and admit their true motivation: protecting politicians. But if they are going to continue waging war against Big Tech, perhaps they should focus on a real constitutional issue: protecting our privacy rights.
While Republicans Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Josh Hawley have made Trumpism and the war on Big Tech foundational to their ambitions as potential presidential candidates in 2024, their focus has been unconstitutional and based on the lie that social media companies are violating our rights to free speech.
Instead of protecting free speech, they are, in fact, protecting politicians.
Just this week, the hearts of so-called conservatives in Washington and the media were all aflutter when DeSantis signed a bill that allows Floridians to sue social media platforms if they are “unfairly censored,” conveniently leaving out the true intentions of the anti-free speech legislation: giving the Florida Election Commission the power to levy fines of $250,000 per day on social media companies that de-platform any candidate running for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for candidates running for non-statewide office.
Further evidence of DeSantis’ desire to protect politicians instead of privacy was revealed in an overlooked provision written into the law that exempts companies that own theme parks in the state. “Social media,” as defined by the bill, “does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.”
In other words, the new law doesn’t apply to Disney, which operates Disney World in Florida, and Comcast, which operates Universal Studios. And other companies like Facebook and Twitter can avoid liability simply by opening or investing in an amusement park in Florida.
One of the really big threats Americans face from Big Tech is the loss of our privacy rights, specifically when it comes to healthcare.
In January 2020, we learned in a Wall Street Journal report that hospitals have been giving Big Tech giants Microsoft, IBM, and Google access to identifiable patient information as part of deals to process millions of medical records. This digitization of patient medical records along with privacy laws allowing companies to swap patient data have set hospitals as the primary gatekeepers of sensitive personal information and how it is shared. (emphasis mine)
Here are some of the deals between Big Tech and hospitals outlined in the report:
Microsoft and Providence, a hospital system with data for about 20 million patient visits a year, are developing cancer algorithms by using doctor’s notes in patient medical records. The notes haven’t been stripped of personally identifiable information, according to Providence, which is based in Renton, Wash.
An agreement between IBM and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to jointly develop artificial intelligence allows the Boston-based hospital to share personally identifiable data for specific requests, people involved in the agreement said. So far the hospital hasn’t shared data on that basis and has no current plans to do so, according to hospital and IBM officials. (emphasis mine)
Other companies included in the WSJ report with direct access to user data are Amazon and Google’s parent company Alphabet:
The Journal also recently reported that Google has access to more records than first disclosed in a deal with the Mayo Clinic. Mayo officials say the deal allows the Rochester, Minn., hospital system to share personal information, though it has no current plans to do so. “It was not our intention to mislead the public,” said Cris Ross, Mayo’s chief information officer.
Dr. David Feinberg, head of Google Health, said Google is one of many companies with hospital agreements that allow the sharing of personally identifiable medical data to test products used in treatment and operations. The companies typically don’t disclose their use of such data, Dr. Feinberg said. “We didn’t hide it.” (emphasis mine)
Well, as long as there aren’t any “current” plans to share the info, I guess our private information is safe, right?
Recently, the WSJ reported on another Google deal much larger than the Mayo Clinic arrangement:
Alphabet Inc.’s Google and national hospital chain HCA Healthcare Inc. have struck a deal to develop healthcare algorithms using patient records, the latest foray by a tech giant into the $3 trillion healthcare sector.
HCA, which operates across about 2,000 locations in 21 states, would consolidate and store with Google data from digital health records and internet-connected medical devices under the multiyear agreement. Google and HCA engineers will work to develop algorithms to help improve operating efficiency, monitor patients and guide doctors’ decisions, according to the companies.
Google’s new anti-privacy rights deal gives the Big Tech company more inroads into the $3 trillion healthcare sector; HCA handles 5% of all hospital services provided in the United States equaling tens of millions of patient interactions every year.
While healthcare lobbyists and their bought and paid for politicians claim that patient information and data are protected under healthcare privacy laws, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allows hospitals to share information with contractors and researchers to make sense of patient data without explicit consent from those patients.
And even though contractors and researchers are required to abide by the healthcare law’s privacy protections, Google can use patient data as it sees fit provided the patient data is anonymized. But as we see in the reports above, that information is rarely anonymous.
Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress have expressed their willingness to destroy free speech by reining in Big Tech. For example, before DeSantis and Hawley made Big Tech a part of their 2024 presidential platform, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made breaking up tech companies a key part of her 2020 platform during her campaign in the Democrat presidential primaries.
The war against Big Tech is merely an elaborate distraction used as cover to protect Republicans, not free speech. And since their focus is on politics instead of the Constitution, they are failing to tackle one of the real problems with Big Tech: the loss of privacy rights.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.