The American tech industry may be on the ropes. At least that’s what Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is intimating in a recent interview on Fox Business Network. Schmidt chastised the NSA and warned that its excesses might result in the demise of the Internet.
Speaking in concert with other tech execs and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at a Silicon Valley event, he said the revelations about U.S. surveillance could prompt countries to wall- off their networks. Wouldn’t that be an ironic turn of events for the beleaguered Obama administration which came into power largely due its proficient use of the Internet.
Countries, in a backlash against America largely due to NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks, already have taken steps to enact new limits on American companies. ’It’s fundamentally about breaking the Internet” opined Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch. ’The Internet is a medium without borders, and the notion that you would have to place data, and data centers and the data itself in a particular location…is fundamentally at odds with the way the Internet is architectured.” But that’s exactly what’s happening.
Some countries, including Russia, have legislated to require companies to keep data centers within their geographic borders-a potentially prohibitive cost for start-ups and small companies which would stifle free enterprise and innovation. Other companies have erected trade barriers that give preference to their own country’s companies over American firms. Some industry analysts peg the cost of such restrictions as high as $180 billion over the next two years- a staggering sum. And this cost doesn’t factor in the loss of American jobs.
The debacle lays firmly at the feet of runaway government surveillance, or more accurately the disclosure of it. ’ I was surprised, because I thought that these disclosures would come out, people would adapt, but something more fundamental occurred,” Schmidt said, ’and what occcurred was a loss of trust between America and other companies. It’s time to end the digital dragnet, which is harming America’s liberty and our economy without making America safer.”
The Obama administration attempted to downplay the significance of Edward Snowden’s actions in absconding with data as Obama famously stated he wasn’t going to scramble any jets to bring him back. Yet the repercussions of the leaks highlights just another of many misjudgements of the Obama administration which touted itself as being the most transparent administration in history. The president’s approval ratings have dipped to their lowest since he took office.
Lawmakers trying to reform the NSA are meeting a brick wall largely because it is staunchly being backed by the administration. But legislators in the Senate are pushing the USA Freedom Act which would end the spy agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and allow companies to report on just what they have to hand over to the government. But given the obstinacy of the Obama administration and closing of the year-end window and in light of the contentious election campaign, little if anything is likely to get done.
The hope is that the administration will get the message and get behind the effort to preserve the Internet by unruffling foreign feathers. The era of blanket surveillance must end because the consequences are dire.