Life in the Time of Surveillance

January/​February 2016 • Policy Report

“This is the age of maximal surveillance,” says Bruce Schneier — the so‐​called “security guru” who spoke at Cato’s Second Annual Surveillance Conference in October. Surveillance is now ubiquitous and virtually unescapable for those who wish to enjoy the conveniences of modern life. And while the government downplays the importance of its access to citizen’s metadata, as Schneier observed, this data is about us — everything about us. “Metadata reveals who we are,” he said. “Google knows more about me than I know — because Google remembers better.”

Throughout the day‐​long conference, experts from around the country discussed the perils of national and global surveillance, as well as prospects for encryption and other tools to protect privacy in an ever‐​changing technological landscape. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a longtime proponent of surveillance reform in Congress, lauded the passage of the USA Freedom Act, a reform bill first introduced at Cato’s surveillance conference in 2013 and signed into law in 2015. He particularly praised Cato’s role as a consistent champion for privacy rights. “I want to thank the Cato Institute,” he said. “You worked very hard on this — when we had people starting to back away, you helped give them courage.”

Immigration from 1965 to 2015
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration Act of 1965 — a defining component of the American legal immigration system. Its passage meant that, after years of discriminatory Progressive Era immigration policies, immigrants from Western Europe no longer had legal preference over immigrants from places like Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe. At the same time, however, the Act introduced new limitations on immigrants from countries like Mexico and Canada. To commemorate the anniversary of this law, Cato hosted a conference, “Fifty Years after Reform: The Successes, Failures, and Lessons from the Immigration Act of 1965.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the son of immigrants from Colombia and Mexico, opened the morning by praising immigration as an engine of economic growth. Jim Gilmore, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Virginia, warned that deporting all illegal immigrants would require turning America into a “police state.” And Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, called for expanding visas for high‐​skilled workers. “While American businesses try to adapt and grow amidst economic and technological revolutions, our outdated immigration policies are holding us back from our full potential,” he said.

Preparing for the UN’s Climate Change Conference
Just before November’s highly anticipated gathering of world leaders in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Cato hosted its own conference: “Preparing for Paris: What to Expect from the U.N.‘s 2015 Climate Change Conference.” Speakers discussed what is at stake in Paris, where leaders will attempt to negotiate a climate change agreement; the potential legal implications of such an agreement; as well as the latest scientific developments in climate science. “There is increasing evidence that the threat from global warming is overstated,” said Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

She denounced the “stifling” of more moderate positions on the effects of climate change, saying that anyone who diverges even slightly from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consensus is considered a “denier.” Richard Tol of the University of Sussex, whom Cato’s Pat Michaels called the “preeminent environmental economist in the world,” delivered the keynote address, in which he predicted that not much will happen in Paris. “For the last 20 or 25 years, governments have tried to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said — to little success. “We should be dismayed,” he said, that so much money has been wasted on these efforts.

Rethinking Monetary Policy
This year’s 33rd Annual Monetary Conference, attended by over 200 people, was the first hosted by Cato’s new Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives — a center dedicated to moving monetary and financial regulatory policies toward a more rules‐​based, free‐​market system. The conference featured distinguished speakers like St. Louis Fed president James Bullard, Richmond Fed president Jeffrey Lacker, and Stanford economist John B. Taylor. Bullard gave the opening address, in which he argued that a stable interest rate peg is “a realistic theoretical possibility.”

Claudio Borio of the Bank for International Settlements, whom The Economist has called “one of the world’s most provocative and interesting monetary economists,” proposed challenging some of the “deeply‐​held beliefs” of monetary policy, including the idea that monetary policy is “neutral,” or that deflations are always disastrous. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R‐​Mich.), who chairs the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, discussed his legislation requiring the Fed to adopt an explicit policy rule, among other reforms. “The Fed ultimately must be accountable to the people’s representatives, as well as to the hard‐​working taxpayers themselves,” he said.

Evaluating the TTIP
“It’s been quite a year for trade policy,” Cato’s Dan Ikenson remarked at the beginning of Cato’s conference, “Will the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Live Up to Its Promise?” “I think we are about to embark on a robust debate in the United States about the TTIP.” Cato’s conference helped prime for that debate, featuring leading trade experts who analyzed TTIP’s status and geopolitical implications. The day opened with a keynote address from Shawn Donnan of the Financial Times, who predicted that the deal may prove difficult to get through the Obama administration. Despite the fact that negotiations began in 2013, he said, “A lot of the conversations feel like they’re just getting started.” The conference, which was broadcast on C-SPAN, continued with discussions of what is at stake in the negotiations — from GMO regulations, to labor and environmental standards, to intellectual property issues.

Speakers including Michelle Egan, a professor at the American University’s School of International Service, and Swedish economist Fredrik Erixon, succinctly explained some of the complex issues under negotiation, like standards‐​related trade barriers and TTIP’s effect on global trade policy. The participants also wrote essays on crucial aspects of TTIP, all of which are available online at www​.cato​.org.

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