Tech Companies and NSA Surveillance: Questions, Contradictions, and Economic Consequences
Today, President Obama is meeting with prominent American tech companies to discuss the ongoing NSA spying controversy.
This comes just two days after Rajesh De, the general counsel of the NSA, stated before a government oversight board that tech companies were legally mandated to assist the government in mass surveillance programs and companies were aware of the surveillance. Specifically, the general counsel indicated that the collection under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act was carried out with the "full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained." De indicated that tech companies probably just didn't know the word PRISM—which is the name of the Internet data mining program that was leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden—because it was "an internal government term" for the program.
These statements contradict what American companies said in the wake of the initial leaks, where they made statements indicating they had no part in these programs and were unaware of them.
American tech companies have fought for the right to be more transparent about how much data they give to the government. After companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Facebook sued for the right to disclose more information about their compliance with 702, the Administration reached an agreement with them that allows companies to disclose the range of FISA orders they receive in increments of 1,000.
Many prominent American tech companies have also collaborated to form the Reform Govenment Surveillance coalition, which urges that "governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications."
The meeting with Obama comes just one week after a leaked report showing that the NSA uses fake Facebook servers to infect computers that visit the site with malware, and on the heels of strong criticism from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbeg over what he says is "the damage the government is creating for all of our future."
Earlier today, the New York Times published an article detailing how American companies are suffering economically as a result of the allegations of their cooperation with NSA surveillance. Microsoft has lost customers, while other companies like IBM and Salesforce are expending significant resources to build data centers overseas. Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation predicted American cloud computing industry would lose $35 billion by 2016, and other research firms predict serious losses throughout the tech industry as a result of US government spying.
Next week President Obama is supposed to receive a report from Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community on proposed ways to reform the NSA surveillance programs. Among the options being considered are ceasing the phone metadata program entirely or keeping the program intact but shifting it to another entity or forcing telecom companies to act as the new big brothers. Many of the most troubling aspects of government surveillance—such as systematic efforts to undermine international encryption standards—are unlikely to be addressed in the proposal.