When Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency spying shocked the world, we were immediately struck by the huge risk to Silicon Valley industry if people no longer trusted the security of American technology.
Six months later, the extent of the problem is being quantified: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates the hit to U.S. cloud computing providers at $35 billion over the next three years. Forrester analyst James Staten calculates tech losses at $180 billion by 2016.
The United States, let alone the Valley, cannot let this happen.
Last week eight tech giants — AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo — launched a very public if belated campaign against NSA surveillance. They need Silicon Valley’s full support.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, are showing some leadership. They’d better because they helped create this mess. Leahy and Sensenbrenner were the leading authors of the Patriot Act.
They have introduced a bill to end data collection except from Americans suspected of being a security threat. It’s a start, but it won’t restore trust in U.S. technology products.
And it doesn’t address the separate but also serious problem of private technology companies gathering and using consumers’ data, often without their knowledge.
For all these reasons, it’s time to draft a comprehensive Internet Bill of Rights.
The term is tossed around a lot. We see it as giving consumers reasonable guarantees that they can keep their data private if they choose. They also need guarantees to full access to information and communication via the Internet.
This isn’t just about Americans. The tech industry is global, and the market losses predicted from NSA activity are largely overseas.
The tech industry’s own shortcomings on privacy compound the NSA problem. They fight requirements to disclose how they use personal information for profit. It’s true that users can avoid this by declining to use a browser or application — but so much of our work and personal lives involve online activity, that’s becoming a meaningless option.
Tech companies might not be using data in a nefarious way. Maybe the NSA isn’t, either. That’s not the point. When Americans turn on their smartphones, laptops and tablets, they should know the extent to which both the government and private companies are tracking their activity. And they should know how the information is being used.
Silicon Valley was built on the belief that easier access to information improves people’s lives and makes the world a better place. That belief now is called into question, not just by Americans but by world markets that drive our own economy. It’s up to the United States to resolve it.San Jose Mercury News