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Today, the Biden administration issued an executive order intended to facilitate future data transfers between the European Union and the United States after a European court invalidated a previous data-transfer agreement on privacy and other grounds. The executive order imposes certain new rules for bulk surveillance by the United States and creates an administrative redress process for individuals subject to unlawful surveillance.
"President Biden's executive order does not go far enough. It fails to adequately protect the privacy of Americans and Europeans, and it fails to ensure that people whose privacy is violated will have their claims resolved by a wholly independent decision-maker," said Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Although the executive order is a step in the right direction, it does not meet basic legal requirements in the EU, leaving EU-U.S. data transfers in jeopardy going forward."
The executive order is designed to respond to a July 2020 decision by the EU's highest court to invalidate "Privacy Shield," a data-transfer agreement between the EU and the U.S. More than 5,000 U.S. companies relied on Privacy Shield for trans-Atlantic data transfers. The EU Court of Justice concluded that Privacy Shield failed to adequately protect the privacy rights of Europeans from U.S. mass surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. In the absence of Privacy Shield, large-scale data transfers to the U.S. are more complicated, costly, and surrounded by legal uncertainty.
The Court of Justice's ruling came in a case originally brought by Austrian lawyer and privacy advocate Max Schrems against Facebook Ireland. The American Civil Liberties Union provided expert testimony about U.S. surveillance laws in the case.
The July 2020 ruling was the second time that the Court of Justice invalidated a data-transfer agreement between the European Union and the United States. In 2015, the court invalidated the "Safe Harbor" agreement -- the two governments' initial attempt to reconcile European privacy law and U.S. surveillance practices -- after Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of warrantless NSA surveillance.
"The problems with the U.S. surveillance regime cannot be cured by an executive order alone," said Gorski. "To protect our privacy and to put transatlantic data transfers on a sound legal footing, Congress must enact meaningful surveillance reform. Until that happens, U.S. businesses and individuals will continue to pay the price."
The ACLU is calling on Congress to radically reform U.S. surveillance laws to rein in warrantless spying, and to ensure that there is a meaningful opportunity to challenge the government's surveillance.
Necessary reforms include:
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
Thousands of buildings flattened with the death toll certain to rise as rescue crews attempt to reach those trapped in the rubble.
Thousands of collapsed buildings, widespread destruction, and deep anguish were reported alongside over 1,600 dead and thousands more injured after a pair of earthquakes—an initial 7.8 tremor on the Richter scale in the early morning and another that measured 7.5—devastated Syria and Turkey on Monday.
Amid dozens of aftershocks—and the quakes being also felt in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories—the full scale of the destruction and the ultimate death toll remains unknown, though early estimates of the dead and wounded were rising by the hour.
According to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the quakes as the most severe in the nation since 1939.
The first quake occurred just after 4:00 am local time in Kahramanmaras province, north of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, while the second took place in the southeastern Turkey.
One television crew was reporting on the first quake in the city of Malatya, when the second one hit:
\u201cThis TV crew was broadcasting live when a second magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit Turkey \u2935\ufe0f\u201d— Al Jazeera English (@Al Jazeera English) 1675678564
According to Al-Jazeera:
Rescuers were digging through the rubble of levelled buildings in the city of Kahramanmaras and neighbouring Gaziantep. Crumbled buildings were also reported in Adiyaman, Malatya and Diyarbakir.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed to 339, according to Syrian state media, with deaths reported in the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartous.
Around the globe, human rights champions and political leaders offered sympathy to those impacted by the disaster and vowed emergency assistance to both Turkey and Syria.
\u201cThinking about all who will be impacted by this devastating earthquake.\u201d— Rashida Tlaib (@Rashida Tlaib) 1675650440
Agnes Callamard, head of Amnesty International, said her organization was "in deep sorrow" following news of the disaster.
"We extend our deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones, and call for the Governments and international community to provide speedy search and relief," Callamard said.
Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations, said, "We at UNHCR stand in solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria affected by today's devastating earthquake and are ready to help provide urgent relief to the survivors through our field teams wherever possible."
"They want to cut and privatize Social Security and take away our young people's futures," said Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, has voiced support for a Social Security privatization scheme that the George W. Bush administration unsuccessfully pushed nearly two decades ago.
In a closed-door event Thursday hosted by the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, a corporate trade group, Pence said he believes that "the day could come when we can replace the New Deal with a better deal, literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account that the government would oversee."
"I mean, a very simple fund that could generate 2% would give the average American twice what they're going to get back on their Social Security today. And it could save the government money doing it," Pence said, according to video footage obtained by the Democratic-aligned group American Bridge 21st Century.
\u201cMike Pence calls for privatizing Social Security for young people as a way to cut spending on public benefits. "We could replace the New Deal with a better deal," he told a conference of business executives.\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1675466552
Experts have forcefully rejected the notion that private savings accounts of the kind Pence endorsed—which would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll tax contributions into private investment accounts—would be more beneficial than Social Security's guaranteed benefits, as the former vice president suggested.
"The popular argument that Social Security privatization would provide higher returns for all current and future workers is misleading, because it ignores transition costs and differences across programs in the allocation of aggregate and household risk," Olivia Mitchell, John Geanakopolos, and Stephen Zeldes—economists sympathetic to the idea of privatization—wrote in a 2000 paper.
Experts have also said private accounts would not, as Pence put it, "save the government money."
In 2005, analysts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimated that a privatization plan put forth by former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would "create $85.8 trillion in additional debt (equal to 93.7% of GDP) by 2050" while not boosting Social Security's long-term solvency—something Republicans claim they want to do.
"Creation of a system of private accounts would not change the amount of revenue coming into the federal government, but it would increase government spending, because the federal government would be making regular payments into the private accounts," the CBPP analysts explained. "These payments would represent new government spending. This increase in spending, unaccompanied by an increase in revenues, would widen annual deficits."
Despite the myriad drawbacks of private accounts as a partial or full-scale alternative to Social Security, Republicans have continued to promote them.
Last year, the Republican Study Committee—a panel that Pence chaired during the Bush administration—released a budget proposal that urged lawmakers to "consider legislative options that allow employers and employees to reduce their payroll tax liability and use those savings to invest in private retirement options."
Pence's remarks Thursday came as the White House and House Republicans are locked in a high-stakes standoff over the debt ceiling, which the GOP does not want to raise without also inflicting steep cuts to federal spending.
"Republicans keeping saying the quiet part out loud: They want to cut and privatize Social Security and take away our young people's futures," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted late Saturday. "Democrats will never let this happen."
"Doctors' sense of our complicity in putting profits over people has grown more difficult to ignore."
A U.S. physician took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times on Sunday to offer a scathing condemnation of the country's for-profit healthcare system and his profession's historical complicity in campaigns against universal coverage.
"Doctors have long diagnosed many of our sickest patients with 'demoralization syndrome,' a condition commonly associated with terminal illness that's characterized by a sense of helplessness and loss of purpose," wrote Eric Reinhart, a physician at Northwestern University. "American physicians are now increasingly suffering from a similar condition, except our demoralization is not a reaction to a medical condition, but rather to the diseased systems for which we work."
"The United States is the only large high-income nation that doesn't provide universal healthcare to its citizens," Reinhart continued. "Instead, it maintains a lucrative system of for-profit medicine. For decades, at least tens of thousands of preventable deaths have occurred each year because healthcare here is so expensive."
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated that trend and spotlighted the fatal dysfunction of the nation's healthcare system, which is dominated by a handful of massive corporations whose primary goal is profit, not the delivery of care.
According to one peer-reviewed study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a universal single-payer healthcare system could have prevented more than 338,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. from the beginning of the crisis through mid-March 2022.
"In the wake of this generational catastrophe, many healthcare workers have been left shaken," Reinhart wrote Sunday. "One report estimated that in 2021 alone, about 117,000 physicians left the workforce, while fewer than 40,000 joined it. This has worsened a chronic physician shortage, leaving many hospitals and clinics struggling. And the situation is set to get worse. One in five doctors says he or she plans to leave practice in the coming years."
"To try to explain this phenomenon, many people have leaned on a term from pop psychology for the consequences of overwork: burnout. Nearly two-thirds of physicians report they are experiencing its symptoms," he added.
But for Reinhart, the explanation lies more in "our dwindling faith in the systems for which we work" than in the "grueling conditions we practice under."
What has been identified as occupational burnout is a symptom of a deeper collapse. We are witnessing the slow death of American medical ideology.
It's revealing to look at the crisis among healthcare workers as at least in part a crisis of ideology—that is, a belief system made up of interlinking political, moral, and cultural narratives upon which we depend to make sense of our social world. Faith in the traditional stories American medicine has told about itself, stories that have long sustained what should have been an unsustainable system, is now dissolving.
During the pandemic, physicians have witnessed our hospitals nearly fall apart as a result of underinvestment in public health systems and uneven distribution of medical infrastructure. Long-ignored inequalities in the standard of care available to rich and poor Americans became front-page news as bodies were stacked in empty hospital rooms and makeshift morgues. Many healthcare workers have been traumatized by the futility of their attempts to stem recurrent waves of death, with nearly one-fifth of physicians reporting they knew a colleague who had considered, attempted, or died by suicide during the first year of the pandemic alone.
Although deaths from Covid have slowed, the disillusionment among health workers has only increased. Recent exposés have further laid bare the structural perversity of our institutions. For instance, according to an investigation in The New York Times, ostensibly nonprofit charity hospitals have illegally saddled poor patients with debt for receiving care to which they were entitled without cost and have exploited tax incentives meant to promote care for poor communities to turn large profits. Hospitals are deliberately understaffing themselves and undercutting patient care while sitting on billions of dollars in cash reserves.
Acknowledging that "little of this is new," Reinhart wrote that "doctors' sense of our complicity in putting profits over people has grown more difficult to ignore."
"From at least the 1930s through today, doctors have organized efforts to ward off the specter of 'socialized medicine,'" he wrote. "We have repeatedly defended health care as a business venture against the threat that it might become a public institution oriented around rights rather than revenue."
Confronting and beginning to solve the myriad crises of the U.S. healthcare system will "require uncomfortable reflection and bold action," Reinhart argued, and "any illusion that medicine and politics are, or should be, separate spheres has been crushed under the weight of over 1.1 million Americans killed by a pandemic that was in many ways a preventable disaster."
"Doctors can no longer be passive witnesses to these harms," he concluded. "We have a responsibility to use our collective power to insist on changes: for universal healthcare and paid sick leave but also investments in community health worker programs and essential housing and social welfare systems... Regardless of whether we act through unions or other means, the fact remains that until doctors join together to call for a fundamental reorganization of our medical system, our work won’t do what we promised it would do, nor will it prioritize the people we claim to prioritize."
Reinhart's op-ed came as the prospects for legislative action to transform the U.S. healthcare system appear as distant as ever, despite broad public support for a government guarantee of universal coverage.
With the for-profit status quo deeply entrenched—preserved by armies of industry lobbyists and members of Congress who do their bidding—the consequences are becoming increasingly dire, with tens of millions uninsured or underinsured and one health crisis away from financial ruin.
In a study released last month, the Commonwealth Fund found that "the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy at birth, the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions, the highest maternal and infant mortality, and among the highest suicide rates" among rich countries, even as it spends far more on healthcare than comparable nations both on a per-person basis and as a share of gross domestic product.
"Not only is the U.S. the only country we studied that does not have universal health coverage," the study added, "but its health system can seem designed to discourage people from using services."