Black Friday

Are Google And Facebook Just Pretending They Want Limits On NSA Surveillance?

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

April 15, 2014

If you think that companies such as Google and Facebook would obviously be in favour of any legislation to curtail NSA-like snooping and invasions of privacy, you might be wrong. It just may be that companies like these are more interested in the loss of potential business than they are of Fourth Amendment rights. They appear, along with other major firms to be spearheading initiatives to actually derail legislation aimed at diminishing agencies’ ability to collect bulk data on Americans.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, along with dozens of other major tech outfits are actively opposing a proposed law to prevent NSA spying.  It is known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act.  Instead, while outwardly proclaiming outrage against government spying, they are supporting secretive industry lobbying groups which are charged with protecting potentially lucrative business deals from going down the drain. After it was revealed that companies complied with NSA requests for customer data, they were quick to emphasize that it was only their compliance with existing laws that forced them to hand over user data. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook wrote, “When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if (it) is required by law. We will continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure”.

It would seem from statements like this that he and other industry leaders would support legislation to limit surveillance. To be fair, they have in fact called for reform in letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The letters applauded a bill known as the USA Freedom Act. The tech giants have also hired a firm which purports to fight NSA surveillance. But behind closed doors the industry is using two lobbying groups to oppose certain restrictions on internet surveillance.  The IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) and the State Privacy and Security Coalition (SPSC) are the two groups. Upon closer scrutiny these groups’ actions tell an interesting story. It appears that while they might want reform, their great concern is not letting anti-surveillance rhetoric harm present and future business. Apparently the ITAPS and SPSC have lobbied politicians to continue to campaign against the Fourth Amendment Protection act. Keep in mind that this bill would limit the NSA’s ability to read private electronic communications without a warrant.

State legislatures around the country have convened hearings on the bill. At these hearings, groups representing law enforcement and district attorneys have railed against the proposed legislation. They claim it is too broad and would hamper criminal investigations and prosecutions. At these hearings corporate adversaries are nowhere to be found. But there is evidence that their agents, the ITAPS and the SPSC have been busy contacting state legislators. It should be noted here that, in many states, legislators are not required to divulge any contacts with industry front groups. But one lawmaker, State Senator Ted Lieu of California volunteered a copy of the letter he received from ITAPS. In it, the organization purported to represent “…the world1s leading innovation companies.” It should be noted here that in addition to the internet giants, other members of the group as listed on its website include Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, Oracle and Samsung.

A letter dated February 20 to Senator Lieu from Carol Henton, a vice-president of ITAPS contained some very telling information. She said the bill would have “ negative implications for companies that are seeking to make manufacturing and business investments in the state of California”. She went on to highlight a specific provision of the bill which was thought to be detrimental to business development. This provision would bar state agencies, employees and contractors from using public funds to engage in any activity that aids the federal government from collecting any individual’s electronic data without a warrant. Because many companies deal with the government in sensitive areas which are important to national security, Henton argued that they might be put at a competitive disadvantage if anti-surveillance legislation came into being.

So the battle lines have been drawn and politicians from both sides of the aisle are grappling with the repercussions of their actions. One thing is for sure- companies will cave-in to the federal government if there is an iota of a chance that business could be lost. The average citizen, the consumer, the electronics user is at the mercy of corporations and governments. In this confusion it is good to know that electronics users can be proactive in safeguarding their privacy. By subscribing to a VPN, one can continue to safely, privately communicate with the world despite the actions of big corporations and big government. If you’re not already using a VPN perhaps it’s time.

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