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.
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
In the short term the large tech companies have lost business. Probably forever, as trust is fragile and when lost is very hard to recover – ask any scorned wife. Probably the Telecom Carriers have not suffered so much, their presence outside the US is small. However for IBM, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and the other tech giants, they are more exposed.
They face going out of business, for they have lost their customers’ trust. Their competitors in the BRICS will build competing products, which will earn the trust of their customers for their software and hardware by making it open source, and open to inspection. US companies could do the same, but their reputations have been tarnished, and they are unlikely to be able to prove their integrity or the integrity of their products to customers around the world. They’d have to ‘prove the negative.’
It’s only a matter of time – the time for the new trusted wave of non-US suppliers to take away the US’ tech revenue. Who in the Rest Of The World (The ROW), will ever trust US tech again?
Would you bet your country on Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Broadcom, Amazon or other US Tech giants, when you know they may be willing to compromise your security by enabling your enemies and competitors to spy on your every action? Would you open up your country to equipment or software that might be used in economic espionage on your corporations, or your government?
How long will it take until the international marketplace decides that it is unsafe to buy IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, and so on? Judging by corporate reports for the recent quarter, not long. It seems to have already started.
The moral of this tale: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” If you don’t, your behavior will rebound on you, and you will have only yourself to blame. If you want to be able to blame the government, do not decide to become accomplices. Once you’ve caved, the safest assumption your customers can make is that you will do it AGAIN, and AGAIN.
The corporations should have fought for privacy in the first place, because behind that privacy was the trust of their customers and their customers’ customers. Standing up at the beginning of this mess would have engendered respect and trust. Standing up AFTER the fact, claiming it’s all the government’s fault is cynical.
The coming divorce will be ugly, Unless there is a huge alimony payment…
Now for the warning, to you, dear readers:
The companies affected can still take one more bite of the marriage pie. The NSA will probably become more constrained in its data collection efforts. This will prevent nothing. Corporations now know that data about consumers is valuable, and they have the power to collect it, and treat it as their property. The NSA, and others, will encourage the corporations in collection personal data, and then pay to mine it.
The surveillance will not stop. It will become outsourced, and not discoverable in legal cases, not covered by warrant, because you, dear reader, will have given the information to corporations as part of your service agreement.
The NSA will then claim “we collect nothing” and “we just cooperate with those who will to cooperate with us” and rely on corporations for collection. The use of information accumulated by corporations will, of course, be secret, if we are to judge the NSA based on its performance to date. If the tech companies have not learned their lesson yet, they will be inclined to “cooperate” with the government, and the corporations will be tempted to sell the information that YOU gave them to the government. This, in turn, will hasten the death of the US Tech companies, resulting in further evisceration of the US economy, and the end of US Tech, “not to be trusted” US Tech.
So, dear readers, it’s up to you now. Neither the government nor the US tech sector has shown any consistent inclination to stand up for your privacy, and YOUR OWNERSHIP OF YOUR DATA. If you want to protect yourselves from bad behavior by big business and government, you have to stand up and demand laws that assert your ownership of your data, and your right to privacy. If you don’t, neither government nor business will respect your data and your ownership of it. ONLY by claiming ownership of your data, and requiring government to assert it in law will you be able to protect yourself from bad behavior by government and business.
Call your representative now. Write a letter. Support the EFF and the ACLU. Let your voice be heard, because big business is ignoring your right to your data, and your government is doing nothing to protect you.
Demand a Constitutional Amendment for the right to privacy.