I don't like politics, and I definitely don't like being a doomsayer. In the United States, presidents come and go every four to eight years, and we've had some good ones and some bad ones. In retrospect, most are somewhere in the middle. The country keeps ticking on, and alarmist rhetoric during elections seems overblown in retrospect.
The reaction to Donald Trump's latest disaster — we are well beyond the level of a gaffe, blunder or faux pas — is not overblown.
The Republican presidential nominee got on Twitter and live TV earlier today (July 27) to exhort "Russia or any other country or person" to "find [Hillary Clintonꞌs] 33,000 deleted emails" and share them with the FBI. In case you missed it, Trump just called for an unfriendly foreign power (or any foreign power, including outright hostile ones) to launch a cyberattack on a U.S. citizen who was representing the U.S. government. This is probably not something you should do if you are running for an office that exists for the express purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and their government.
Having written about cybersecurity for the last four years, there are two things I know for sure. The first is that most people don't understand it very well, and the second is that it's much more important than people think it is. The internet isn’t just for impulse shopping and pornography; it's also where people store some of their most important information and exchange some of their most sensitive communications.
Regardless of how low you keep your online profile, there's something in it that you'd prefer to keep out of someone else's hands — and there's someone who wants to use that information against you. Itꞌs not fair, and it’s not statistically likely, but it’s true. Cybercrime can threaten your privacy, your livelihood and even your safety. That’s why when a presidential candidate implicitly requests a foreign entity to unearth and expose private information from a government agency (the State Department), it's not just irresponsible — it's uncomfortably close to an act of treason.
Whether Hillary Clinton's emails were private or public is a subject of some debate, and at the crux of the ongoing discussion surrounding her actions. I have no desire to rehash that issue here, suffice to say that some of her correspondence was likely private, and some of it likely involved government information. Neither case exonerates Trump, who was either calling for a foreign power to attack a U.S. citizen, or to attack the U.S. government. Take your pick.
Hillary Clinton is not a "private citizen" in the strictest sense, and Trump wants these would-be hackers to turn the information over to the FBI rather than just plaster it online. However, even public figures possess both civil and legal rights. Law enforcement has hard boundaries in what counts as permissible evidence for a reason. A democracy, by definition, will never be 100 percent safe from its enemies, but thatꞌs the price we acknowledge and pay in order for every citizen to have some of the freedoms outlined in our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and our laws all the way down to a local level.
Trump isnꞌt just making an idle threat, either; Russian hackers have already unearthed and revealed a cache of private DNC emails. The Democratic Party is still dealing with the fallout, as the correspondences revealed a lot of internal strife and a little bit of religious intolerance within Clintonꞌs party. For better or worse, Russian hackers have the means to throw a monkey wrench into the American political process, and Trump actively wants them to.
Unspecified Eastern European hackers are, however, not the most reliable source of political stability. I have no desire to impugn Eastern Europeꞌs plethora of white-hat hackers, who move security research forward and protect cybersecurity all around the world. But itꞌs no secret that Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular, are hotbeds for cybercrime and malicious hacking. If Trump doesnꞌt believe these criminals would eventually turn on him, then his ignorance is even greater than it appears to be. (Even conservative columnist David Frum has been less than impressed with Trumpꞌs stance on Russian relations.)
Whatever you think of Clinton (and I am not a fan of hers, for the record), she is still a citizen of the United States. When someone seeking the countryꞌs highest office calls down the wrath of a foreign power on her, that should disqualify him immediately as a serious contender for the presidency. Make no mistake: Cybercrime can be a form of terrorism, just as sure as a bombing or mass shooting, and if Hillary Clintonꞌs privacy isnꞌt safe under Trump, whose would be?
This column isn’t meant to alter anyone’s vote or endorse any particular candidate for presidency. Goodness knows I havenꞌt decided yet. But unless Trump clarifies (or better yet, rescinds) his comments, a vote for him is a vote for foreign cyberattacks against United States citizens. Youꞌd better just hope that youꞌre not next on his list.