We cannot expect corporations to safeguard civil liberties. A corporation's job is primarily to make money; it's government's job to protect liberty.

Three recent issues support this view. First is Bush's illegal use of NSA against US citizens. It hasn't been reported in the press yet, but we have to assume that US telecom companies are complicit in implementing the wiretaps. It's standard industry practice going back to the telegraphy days. Second is the DoJ's blanket request for search logs. Three of four search engines turned data over without argument; only Google has resisted. Finally, there's Google's decision to implement Chinese censorship. Google's doing the best it can in an awkward situation, but ultimately China is too large a market to stay out of entirely.

In all three cases companies were placed in the position of having to defend their users' privacy and civil rights against government intrusion. And in each case, there's disappointment. While companies and their employees sincerely try to do the right thing, you don't see a lot of outright corporate civil disobedience. Companies have too much to lose to defy government orders entirely.

The real battle is one level up, in the legal system. We can't expect companies to disobey laws, even unjust ones. Instead we need to change the bad laws and enforce the good ones. And since so much US law is written by corporate lobbyists, as consumers we need to create market conditions so that companies have an incentive to make laws that protect civil liberties. It's awfully indirect, but that's the way a capitalist civil society works.

Support the EFF and the ACLU!

As always, my views are my own and do not reflect my employer.

  2006-01-25 22:44 Z