Microsoft. Google. Facebook. These firms, among others, have featured prominently in the news over the past few weeks and months. Recently, reports indicated that they have come together to demand changes to US surveillance policy, because it’s bad for business. A while earlier, reports had arisen indicating that some major US companies had worked with the US government against the best interests of their customers. Their cooperation with government spying activity evidently seemed fine to them as long as it was done in secret, but now that their bad behavior has been made public, it seems that they are concerned that their customers might not want to buy tainted goods.
Do not be alarmed, citizens.
The NSA and other US Government Agencies have induced US vendors to cooperate with their surveillance of every atom’s vibration on our planet. With one notable exception, Joe Nacchio and Quest, who told the government to “come back with a warrant” – in our option both a perfectly legal and morally a correct response.
Joe Nacchio went to jail for “insider trading,” a crime which probably could be proven for every other CEO of publicly traded companies. Enron and Tyco come to mind.
All other companies either cooperated (with ‘noble intentions,’ of course) or were persuaded by the example the US Government set with Joe Nacchio that “cooperation” was preferable to fighting the “requests”.
AT&T for certain, and most probably all the other Telecom carriers help the NSA to tap into their fiber optic networks, for a fee, and we understand provide the Government many years of call detail records – the so called “ metadata” for phone calls. The phone companies had been collecting this data for years to use in their own market research, generally to measure individual customer profitability, which made the data the property of the Telecom Carrier. While the government pretends that this metadata doesn’t really tell them much, let me ask you a simple question: “IF the government does not get useful information from the metadata, WHY DO THEY WANT TO COLLECT IT?” For phone calls, the metadata includes who you were talking to, how long the conversation was, the originating phone number, and the destination phone number, plus the date and time. For email, it includes your email address, the email address(es) of all the other parties, the Subject Line, your IP address, and the date it was sent. As you can see, there is a LOT of information there, which, when cross-referenced with other information in their database, can give the government a good idea of what you were discussing.
The problems that US tech corporations are having, especially those who caved in when asked to put back doors in their products, or to find other ways to help the US government collect data on their customers, is that people found out about it, and NOW THEIR CUSTOMERS DON’T TRUST THEM anymore. Trying to get the government to rein in the NSA now is like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. It’s never too late to do the right thing, but customer trust is fragile. Once people learn that you’ve been engaged in conspiracies against their best interests, WHY would companies making loud public statements that imply that “it’s not our fault. Blame the government” ever convince customers who have been damaged that they should start trusting these sinners again? To be clear, YES, those companies SHOULD work to get the government to behave itself. All the same, it’s NOT going to change the viewpoint of customers who may have been damaged by the companies’ willingness to conspire in secret with the government, to the potential harm of those customers.
What SHOULD the companies have done? These companies could have protested and filed appeals to protect their customers’ information. If the companies had truly been concerned about the Government’s behavior, they could have picked up the phone and asked either their lobbyists or their Congressman or Senator to exert pressure on the government. Or, they could have take action through the US Chamber of Commerce or their trade association, to act in unison to protect them from this behavior by the Government. Apparently they did not, because we know of no appeals from the FISA court to appear on the Supreme Court’s docket.
Of course, it takes backbone to stand up to a government which is willing to use or abuse anything to get its way. Joe Nacchio’s treatment by the Government was clearly designed to send a message to others, as a form of intimidation. Sometimes, leadership requires backbone, and a sense of ethics. As the Nuremburg trials showed, “We were just following orders,” is NOT an excuse. So, it’s clear that the corporate leaders failed to lead; instead, they meekly followed the governments’s dictums. If they had failed to comply, it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that the government might have refused to renew contracts, or might have engaged in some other sort of financial response. To have acted effectively against government threats, either stated or implied, the tech companies needed to come together and provide a united response. Only a unified response by the tech corporations could have protected them and their CEO’s en masse.
Legalities set aside, with the Companies providing information, either through CALEA-engineered “wire taps” (back doors into products) or taps on live networks, information, not demanded legally by warrants or illegal demanded by extortion information, the Companies now lie in the bed they have made for themselves, by their lack of coordinated resistance. It’s hard to be sympathetic to their cries, “We’re innocent! It was the government’s fault,” when they seem to have been willing enough to go along with it as long as their customers didn’t know about it.
The have lost the trust of their customers, and the Governments of the countries where they do business. They have demonstrated they are not to be trusted, and thus cannot be considered to be long-term suppliers to those countries or to their customers in those countries.
The End of Tech