AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo joined today to ask for Global Government Surveillance Reform. While asking nicely isn’t likely to accomplish anything on its own, the public statement does move the discussion forward.

The request is sincere. I personally know people at Google and Twitter who’ve shaped their policies and they have just as much of a liberty / freedom of speech / Internet nerd background as you could hope. And all of these companies have a commercial interest in limiting spying to protect their international businesses. For example, NSA spying on Gmail is a significant threat to Google’s business plans in Europe. They have a self-serving reason to want to stop NSA overreach.

My concern is they don’t have any real hope of succeeding in what they’re asking. This request strikes me as particularly na├»ve: “governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.”. Bulk data mining is a hugely valuable intelligence asset, there’s no way NSA is just going to stop collecting everything they can just because we ask nicely.

I think the requests for oversight and transparency are more realistic. Since the Snowden documents started coming out I’ve wavered between being appalled by NSA’s contempt for the Constitution and impressed by their technical capabilities. I accept at some level the US government needs an agency that, say, is hoovering up everyone’s cell phone movements as a way to track bad guys. The problem is that it’s illegal for NSA to collect that data against US citizens. And the current workaround for the Fourth Amendment is a ridiculous system with no meaningful judicial or legislative oversight.

The current state of surveillance threatens democracy; it has to change. The good news is some of America’s most powerful corporate interests also want to fix it.

  2013-12-09 17:51 Z