An Open Letter to the US Congress

2 min
Tags: USCongress Swisscows Data Google Whatsapp 117th Swiss USA Congress

There are many things that the Swiss do better than Americans.

Our chocolates and cheeses are loved around the globe, the rich love our banks and our watches, and every American camper carries a Swiss Army Knife. But we’re also very good at privacy. The Swiss Constitution, unlike its American counterpart, guarantees all citizens a right to privacy. Moreover, our body of laws reflects that right by making it illegal for tech companies like mine -- Swisscows, which offers a non-trackable search engine and WhatsApp style messenger service -- to share user data.

According to Swiss law, all user data belongs not to the platforms or web services patronized by users, but to the users themselves. As such, my company does something no American company would ever dream of doing with user data -- we delete it.

As American companies generate hundreds of billions in revenue from selling user data, it is something we would never dream of doing, because that data DOES NOT BELONG TO US.

There is an old American idiom that just because we can do something, it does not mean that we should, and that is our argument in a nutshell. Selling user data erodes both the concept and the reality of individual privacy. Selling data regarding each individual’s wanderings on the Internet is tantamount to a company following our physical footsteps on a daily basis, and then selling that behavioral data to the stores we frequent while we’re out. It’s an unconscionable breach of our individual liberties and the very concept of privacy in a first-world society.

Further, several members of the US Congress recently released a public statement regarding the controversy over the use of NSO’s software to hack user data from the servers of WhatsApp. While Congress targets NSO for culpability in these data seizures, our belief is that WhatsApp is equally complicit in the hack, because if they didn’t treat the data as their own, it would not have been available for anyone to hack.

That is why we are calling on the US Congress to level the playing field for those tech companies, like mine, who offer non-trackable search engines and messenger apps, by proposing a federal law banning the collection, storage and sale of user data across all online platforms, sites and apps. While the US Constitution lacks a specific right to privacy, many Constitutional scholars would argue that privacy rights have been established through the interpretation of your Bill of Rights and multiple court precedents. If you believe, as they do, that Americans do have a sovereign claim to the right to privacy, then it only follows logically that the US Congress establish laws to protect that privacy, both in concept and functional reality.

So, we officially call upon the members of the 117th Congress to propose a bill that would eliminate the opportunity for hackers to gain access to data from companies who treat user data cavalierly as their own, with limited security and protocols designed to protect that data. Enough is enough. It is reckless and foolhardy to allow the status quo to continue, as the continued incursions from hackers and rival nations will never cease. As long as that data exists in large clearing houses at tech giants like Google and WhatsApp, there will be hackers attempting to access individual user data. And they will continue to succeed, while American regulators and legislators sit idly by, allowing the forces of capitalism to trump the rights to privacy Americans continually claim they have.

It must end, and that ending begins with you.

Andreas Wiebe