A popular pastime for politicians is flag waving. The passion to wrap one’s arguments in patriotic garb is a useful political tool, especially when the opinions are without merit. US Representative Mike Rogers engaged in just such activity this week in casting Google as an unpatriotic villain for having the audacity to defy the NSA’s mass data collecting efforts.
Google, like many of the internet companies, are no longer being as compliant with the government spy agencies and have in fact gone in the other direction. They are taking steps to stay ahead of the government in the data collection game and employing things like better encryption to further this goal. This does not sit well with Rep. Rogers and his ilk who wish to portray them as unpatriotic. As I say, when in doubt play the national security card.
The format for the latest flag waving was CIA Conference on National Security at Georgetown University which was reported on in Techdirt on Wednesday. It was attended by all you might expect and its program was about what you might expect at a CIA sponsored conference. Its subject matter played right into the hands of Rogers who, among other things, is a former FBI agent. He naturally attacked Silicon Valley tech companies for now resisting NSA surveillance methods.
Curiously he makes the point that the NSA initiatives, leaked a year ago by Edward Snowden, have harmed business for these companies around the world. I say curiously because how else would you expect companies to react when their business was being negatively affected? In Roger’s mind these companies are putting global profits ahead of national security. He said:
“While I’m on my soapbox, we should be really mad at Google and Facebook and Microsoft, because they’re doing a very interesting, and I think dangerous thing. They’ve decided to come out and say ‘we oppose this new FISA bill, because it doesn’t go far enough. And when you peel the onion back a bit and say, why are you doing this? This is a good bill, it’s safe, it’s bi-partisan, it’s rational. It meets all the requirements for 4th Amendment protections and privacy protection and allowing the system to work.” And they say:
“Well we have to do this because we’re trying to make sure we don’t lose our European business. I don’t know about the rest of you but that offends me from the words ‘European business’. Think about what they’re doing. They’re willing to, in their minds, justify the importance of their next quarters earnings in Europe versus the national security of the United States.”
Talk about playing to the audience! His arguments are specious and completely ignore the fact that it is the government agencies which are threatening the business of these companies at home and abroad. Also, Rogers wishes to have it both ways. During the conference he states how important the internet is to our economy, rightly estimating it to be one-sixth of it. Yet he blithely glosses over the government’s surveillance efforts which would undermine the internet’s effectiveness and derail this engine of opportunity. As if people would continue using an internet whose privacy was compromised!
The complaints from various tech companies are not about their ‘next quarter’ of profits as Rogers so conveniently puts it. It’s that the NSA and other spy agencies have put them in a precarious position- of being untrustworthy in the eyes of the world. Yet Rogers would have the companies continue to be untrustworthy by kow-towing to the government at the cost of future business and their very existence. Remember, companies are made up of shareholders-patriotic shareholders. Who will speak for them? Rogers? The NSA? I don’t think so.
All this is hypocrisy and flag waving during a mid-term election cycle. We urge you to cut through the double-speak to see things for what they are. Another politician wrapping himself in the flag and bogus national security issues to score points with the electorate and audience members with whom he has a kinship. We deserve better representation than this.