Just before the U.S. holiday season, I wrote a post at FPRI entitled “Post-Snowden: The Hypocrisy of Tech Company Calls for Surveillance Reform“. For some reason, I got the feeling this posting did win over many people. But, I stand by my argument, that tech companies, the most pervasive electronic surveillance perpetrators in the world, should not be telling the U.S. government how to reform surveillance. If anyone is going to be scaling back surveillance, I think it should be the American public – who needs to decide how much privacy they are willing to trade off to maintain their national security.
I’ve usually gotten two criticisms of my argument.
First is that tech companies issue terms of service to their customers explaining how their information is being used. Thus its on the customers, if they don’t like their user information being exposed, then they can quit using the service. For this, my counter is that the majority of users, even if they did read the terms of service, would not even be able to understand them and tech companies by issuing long terms of service filled with technical jargon are being deceptive about their practices. From what I understand, there is a court ruling (for which I’m searching for, please post if you have it) that says these terms of service are incomprehensible and users can’t be held to closely to them.
The second argument is usually something like “Tech companies can’t through me in jail, but the government can!” For this I counter with show me the evidence of widespread NSA violation of American privacy resulting in jail time. I know, I know, some will immediately push back on this, which I’ll follow up in a separate post. But, I’m not aware of mass American imprisonment coming from NSA surveillance. If that is happening, please explain, as I’m not aware of it from observing or personally dealing with the U.S. government.
My push against tech companies reforming surveillance hinges on several things I discuss in the article.
- When tech companies call for government surveillance reform, they do this to protect profits, not customers. My experience with NSA personnel has always been that they put the security and privacy of U.S. citizens above all other interests.
- Tech companies called for government surveillance reform after Snowden’s revelations and in direct response to U.S./NSA actions. But these same companies have been penetrated aggressively by countries like China and called for no such reform. When tech companies are targeted by China, Russia or Iran, they run to the U.S. government for help, but don’t call for reform. I call this two-faced.
- If tech companies didn’t like the surveillance they were complying with before Snowden’s revelations, they could have banded together to say something. They could have petitioned legislators to change the laws. But they did no such thing. Tech companies only care about privacy after Snowden’s revelations because it might impact their profits.
- Tech companies across the board, as I discuss in the article, are not transparent about how they mine user information. They should not demand such transparency from the government if they are not willing to clearly explain their data mining. The more I learn of the electronic surveillance of companies like Google (See the article), the more I’m convinced Google’s “Don’t Do Evil” slogan is the equivalent of the Fox News slogan “Fair and Balanced”.
Here is the introduction to the article and see the rest of at this link.
“The recent call by certain technology corporations to reform government surveillance makes for great public relations, but underneath these calls reek of hypocrisy. Despite stating the desire for “the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information,” the call clearly comes only after Edward Snowden exposed that these companies were the primary points by which the NSA accessed information for intelligence efforts. The Snowden revelations shook these companies to their core. Why? Well, its not about customer privacy, instead its about Internet company business models.”