Tech companies vs. the government over NSA spying

Will tech companies “go to war” with the government over Prism and other surveillance? We haven’t mentioned NSA spying in a whole week. Now, a thought-provoking op-ed in Wired again gives us something to talk about.

Australian analyst Patrick Gray disagrees with those who think that companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook don’t care about the government spying on their customers — as revealed by reports about the Prism program and other surveillance programs. Remember, tech companies have loudly protested that they are voluntarily complying with the government. They say they turn over user information only when they are legally compelled to do so.

And companies are using their technology chops to put up “new interception hurdles everywhere you look,” he says. That’s why governments are pushing for laws to make surveillance easier, such as fines for companies that fail to make their offerings “wiretap-friendly,” Gray writes. (We wrote in 2010 about such a plan.)

As an example of how companies are or can fight back, Gray says Apple could update its software to show iOS users that Big Brother (presumably with a warrant) is watching their communications. It would, as he says, “set off alarm bells.”

Gray goes way back to the days when BlackBerry was relevant to remind us that the Indian government once compelled that company to allow it to intercept users’ communications, which were encrypted. Also in 2010, we wrote that India, citing its anti-terrorism fight as justification, threatened to block access for all BlackBerry users in that country if the company failed to comply, and that it wanted other tech companies to do the same.

Does the India-BlackBerry example go to show that tech companies’ resistance is futile? That government will always win? Because of Edward Snowden, the former government tech contractor who leaked the documents that led to the recent reports exposing the scope of NSA spying, Gray says no. Basically, he says what Snowden has wrought is that people are mad as hell, and that measures that enable easier wiretapping and other government access to the public’s information won’t pass.

Some are skeptical. Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation tweeted “I wish I agreed with this Wired op-ed… but I don’t. The evidence just isn’t there.”


Photo:  Aerial view of the cooling units at the NSA’s Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)


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