Tech Execs Express Extreme Concern That NSA Surveillance Could Lead To 'Breaking' The Internet

from the moral,-economic-and-patriotic dept

As mentioned, on Wednesday I attended a tech exec panel held at Palo Alto High School (in the high school gym, which was a weird sort of setting for such a high powered gathering of folks -- complete with gym echoes, and school bells buzzing, at one point leading a bunch of students to stream out to lunch just as Google's Eric Schmidt started talking). You can see the video of the event here where the sound is actually much, much clearer than in the gym itself, where the buzzing old lights made it nearly impossible to hear half of the panelists).
Nothing necessarily earth-shattering was said by anyone, but it did involve a series of high powered tech execs absolutely slamming the NSA and the intelligence community, and warning of the vast repercussions from that activity, up to and including potentially splintering or "breaking" the internet by causing people to so distrust the existing internet, that they set up separate networks on their own.

The execs repeated the same basic points over and over again. They had been absolutely willing to work with law enforcement when and where appropriate based on actual court orders and review -- but that the government itself completely poisoned the well with its activities, including hacking into the transmission lines between overseas datacenters. Thus, as Eric Schmidt noted, if the NSA and other law enforcement folks are "upset" about Google and others suddenly ramping up their use of encryption and being less willing to cooperate with the government, they only have themselves to blame for completely obliterating any sense of trust.

Microsoft's Brad Smith, towards the end, made quite an impassioned plea -- it sounded more like a politician's stump speech -- about the need for rebuilding trust in the internet. It's at about an hour and 3 minutes into the video. He points out that while people had expected Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, the rise of ISIS and other claimed threats has some people scared, but, he notes:
We need to look the world's dangers in the face. And we need to resolve that we will not allow the dangers of the world to freeze this country in its tracks. We need to recognize that antiquated laws will not keep the public safe. We need to recognize that laws that the rest of the world does not respect will ultimately undermine the fundamental ability of our own legal processes, law enforcement agencies and even the intelligence community itself. At the end of the day, we need to recognize... the one asset that the US has which is even stronger than our military might is our moral authority. And this decline in trust, has not only effected people's trust in American technology products. It has effected people's willingness to trust the leadership of the United States. If we are going to win the war on terror. If we are going to keep the public safe. If we are going to improve American competitiveness, we need Congress to stay on the path it's set. We need Congress to finish in December the job the President put before Congress in January.
It was a good talk, and it basically was a chance for all these tech execs to express similar concerns and to do so loudly. It's perfectly reasonable to suggest that the tech industry was complacent on these issues in the past, that they were too trusting (often way too trusting) of the government, that they should have started from a position of distrust and should have encrypted everything possible from the get go. Frankly, those are very legitimate criticisms. But, it's pretty clear that these tech companies are now pissed off at the government and the fact that it undermined everything, including their own businesses around the globe -- and they're determined to win back the trust of the public, whether or not the government is willing to cooperate. I find that encouraging, though I'd still like to see pretty much all of the companies do even more on the encryption front.

As I said, there wasn't anything earth shattering, but it's clear that these companies have all seen the impact from the government's overbroad surveillance efforts, and they're not just concerned about it from their direct bottom line, but what it means for the overall internet. Multiple execs talked about not just moral authority, as Smith mentioned, but the moral imperative to use the internet to create greater connectivity and raise the ability of people around the globe -- and how much more difficult the NSA had made things.

I know that some cynical folks will claim this is all for show. But there is a real concern that comes across here about just how devastating the NSA's actions have been (and continue to be). Schmidt was absolutely right that if law enforcement and the intelligence community is upset about it, they only have themselves to blame.
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Filed Under: brad smith, economy, eric schmidt, nsa, ron wyden, surveillance, trust
Companies: google, microsoft


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 2:53am

    Re:

    They actually cannot search your trunk if it's locked, they need to have it towed if a warrant is served on the field, which is extremely rare. Also, lower your window the less possible to give license and registration and if asked to get out of the car, lock your door (don't forget to take your keys too. And if asked why you locked your door, say "force of habit, is there a problem officer ? If there isn't I'd rather be leaving if that's possible. There's a video released by the ACLU and approved by a bunch of lawyers in the US called : Busted! everyone should see it. They give ways to engage the police in different situations whether you have drugs or not (2 out of 3 of the situations acted by real cops (crazy right? cops who still follow the Law) and actors)...the case where no drugs are present is race profiling/harassing (black guy waiting for the bus for a long time because it's coming the other way before so he'll have to wait 30 minutes and the cops act crooked and manage to arrest him...so

    protip : be white, it's easier

    jk, sort of...I was just listening to the song Three Strikes by Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medecine (the singer of Dead Kennedys finally found a band able to play his strange form of hardcore punk rock) and at one time he goes "paying in cash while black" when listing a bunch of offenses that could get you life in prison in some states that have the three strikes thing.

    "Life in prison for stealing a can of beer." Wow, the young me working at the Supermarket while 16 to 20 (its legal to drink at 18 here but thats not related), I'd be suffering multiple life sentences for all the cases of beer I placed somewhere out of sight to leave with....yeah I was a little bastard.

    tl;dr They can't force open a locked trunk if you do not consent to a search. The best way not to consent to a search is kinda strange, because saying nothing is the best way than saying No you do not consent, well no excuse me, it's saying "Why? Am I free to go? I'm going to be late to X." this sort of thing. I'm not american and when i was smoking marijuana and making large purchases that would fall into criminal territory (over 30g) in my country, 30g and under, cops just steal it and smoke it themselves, I would put the stuff in the trunk. Just watch Busted, it might help you out, unless the cop starts spraying you/beating the shit out of you etc. for being smarter than them. Also I encourage everyone to do like the Russians, install a camera on your car, over there its mandatory, but yeah, install a camera that can see all angles except in the front of the car, not much usually happens in the front of your car, never heard of cops wanting to check your motor and oil levels.

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