In a joint open letter to President Barack Obama, running as a full page ad in several newspapers, including the New York Times, eight Tech Behemoths, including some of the enablers of the NSA's surveillance tactics against American and "foreign" citizens-- Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, AOL and LinkedIn--have all called for the overhaul of our nation's abusive intelligence practices.
These are the same practices which prior to the revelations of a certain computer security consultant (now a hunted man presumably residing somewhere in Russia) showing their eager complicity and involvement, the same companies and in particular, their CEO's, were only too happy to keep forever secret from the rest of us.
“It sure would have been nice if the tech companies had been loudly supporting intelligence reform before Snowden's disclosures,” said Chris Soghoian, a senior analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.Trevor Trimm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees:
WikiLeaks, which has helped Snowden win temporary asylum in Russia, said in a tweet that the corporations were only speaking out against mass surveillance “after seeing profit problems over their complicity in it.”
“It’s now in their business and economic interest to protect their users’ privacy and to aggressively push for changes,” said Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The N.S.A. mass-surveillance programs exist for a simple reason: cooperation with the tech and telecom companies. If the tech companies no longer want to cooperate, they have a lot of leverage to force significant reform.”For what it's worth, maybe even the CEOs felt uncomfortable with the NSA knowing how many times they've trolled the web looking for old girlfriends.
In case anyone had any doubts about the commitment of these CEOs to change, those would be dispelled by the remarkably similar quotations attributed to each on their venture's website:
“Twitter is committed to defending and protecting the voice of our users. Unchecked, undisclosed government surveillance inhibits the free flow of information and restricts their voice. The principles we advance today would reform the current system to appropriately balance the needs of security and privacy while safeguarding the essential human right of free expression.”
—Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
These principles embody LinkedIn’s fundamental commitment to transparency and ensuring appropriate government practices that are respectful of our members’ expectations.”
—Erika Rottenberg, General Counsel, LinkedIn
“AOL is committed to preserving the privacy of our customers’ information, while respecting the right of governments to request information on specific users for lawful purposes. AOL is proud to unite with other leading Internet companies to advocate on behalf of our consumers.”That these attorney-scrubbed defenses of their users' privacy rights resemble similar denials of responsibility at the time the revelations about their companies' involvement in government snooping came to light seems not to bother the Masters of the Tech Universe.
—Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL
Absent from these noble sentiments is any explanation as to why that level of commitment was missing in the past. Also absent is any hint of regret for their past collaboration. Rather, the focus of these expressions is solely on the actions of the government (For example, Mark Zuckerberg's conclusion that “[T]he U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right," and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo explaining that the disclosures had “shaken the trust of our users”).
The new principles outlined by the companies contain little information and few promises about their own practices, which privacy advocates say contribute to the government’s desire to tap into the companies’ data systems.This is a PR move for companies that American culture has placed on a pedestal because they offer unique services and products borne out of the technological revolution--services and products that have become a ubiquitous fixture of 21st Century life. Their CEO's are largely young, attractive people whom the corporate media have eagerly transformed into celebrity icons, and their brands are to a great extent dependent upon their CEO's favored status in the culture. To the extent that culture has demanded some accountability--thanks to the sole efforts of one man--this is a positive development. But for anyone to rest easy on these general pronouncements would be folly, least of all because they are by their nature unverifiable by anyone save the companies themselves. As pointed out in the Times article, the PR effort seen here doesn't include the lesser-known CEO's of "older" companies such as AT&T, Verizon, who were equally complicit in selling your privacy down the river to the NSA.
Telecom companies, which were not included in the proposal to Congress, have had a closer working relationship with the government than the Internet companies, such as longstanding partnerships to hand over customer information. While the Internet companies have published so-called transparency reports about government requests, for example, the telecoms have not.There is no more Cold War. The "longstanding tradition" of which Mr. Wu speaks would not--or should not--have involved the unchecked collection of personal data regarding Americans' communications, associations or movements. That would create an inherent conflict with an even more "longstanding tradition," the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures:
“For the phone companies,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia studying the Internet and the law, “help with federal spying is a longstanding tradition with roots in the Cold War.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.