Google has decided to partner with the National Security Agency (NSA) to analyze the recent corporate espionage attack on Google's systems - said to have originated in China - in an effort to prevent similar cyber attacks in the future.
There is an enormous danger to Americans' privacy and a great propensity for error when government and private sector partnerships are initiated without aggressive oversight and meaningful regulation.
Alarm bells sound even louder when the NSA is involved, considering the NSA's infamous record of teaming up with the private sector to invade Americans' privacy in the name of national security. George W. Bush's so-called "terrorist surveillance program," (a.k.a. warrantless wiretapping) authorized under dubious legal reasoning from our favorite former-DOJ official "torture lawyer" John Yoo, resulted in the NSA and telecommunications companies doing an end-run around the 4th Amendment to dig into Americans' private data without warrants.
Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, insists that the Google-NSA partnership is necessary for national security, a mantra we've heard too many times to justify improper surveillance and privacy-invading programs:
Cyberspace cannot be protected [Blair] said, without a "collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners."
There are countless unanswered questions about the Google-NSA partnership: Exactly what information will Google and the NSA be sharing? What happens to that information? What safeguards are in place to guarantee the information shared is kept out of government databases when there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity? What authority will the NSA use to obtain information from Google in the name of cyber security? Will a neutral party oversee the partnership to ensure Americans' privacy is protected?
It is especially worrisome that, as reported in The Washington Post, Google and NSA refused to comment specifically on the agreement:
Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans' online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users' searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.
After all of the disastrous missteps and proven illegality that the NSA has committed in recent years, it is unacceptable that all the assurances we have that this program will protect privacy and not result in illegal spying are from "anonymous sources." It seems the NSA is once again saying "trust us, we're the government." Frankly, while trusting the government is an already dubious notion, it is downright laughable coming from an agency like the NSA.
Cyber security is no doubt an important issue. However, private sector cooperation with government agencies, especially ones notorious for secret surveillance, should only be undertaken where there are regulatory privacy safeguards and aggressive oversight in place. Privacy should not be an area where we shoot first and ask questions later. The right to be left alone is far too crucial to our democracy to be cast aside by a few powerful government officials and corporate executives.
Google should heed its own mantra - "Don't Be Evil" - before it leaps into bed with a government agency already known to toss out the rule of law.