Friday, June 14, 2013

The corporate costs of surveillance

hen your firm hosts personal data for millions of people, "privacy is a big selling point,"said Hayley Tsukayama at The Washington Post. That's why AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have been so assiduous in denying that they have granted the government access to their servers as part of the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program. Google this week asked the government to allow it to release information it believes would show that the scope and volume of surveillance orders are smaller than people have been led to believe. "There's no backdoor, there's no lockbox," said a Google executive. Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook also want to reassure users that they aren't systematically ratting them out to Big Brother. After all, "trust is the currency on which tech companies build their businesses."
Yet the industry's denials "obscure a larger truth," said Michael Hirsh at The Atlantic. The government's huge data-collection system was built "not by professional spies or Washington bureaucrats but by Silicon Valley and private defense contractors." Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, said recently that none of the computers and phones at NSA headquarters are even owned by the government; the massive operation has been constructed and maintained by private-sector companies. And that's not surprising; Silicon Valley had "the best stuff and the best minds" to deal with the security threats after 9/11, so that's where the government turned. We don't know how deeply the big U.S. Internet companies are involved, but there's no doubt that even for them, the long marriage between the government and Silicon Valley "has become an acute embarrassment."

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