Silicon Valley Is Not the Answer to the Surveillance State
By Staff News & Analysis - December 10, 2013

AOL, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple and LinkedIn to call for reforms to restore the public's trust in the Internet … AOL, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple and LinkedIn say: 'The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual.' The world's leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public's "trust in the internet". In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL have published an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians. – UK Guardian

Dominant Social Theme: It is about time the most successful tech companies started to stand up to the Surveillance State. Good for them.

Free-Market Analysis: We are supposed to be grateful that the world's largest tech companies are standing up to US government and its intrusive intel operations. But we have a difficult time summoning the appropriate enthusiasm. From our point of view, it's a kind of "directed history." A staged drama.

There are plenty of reports on the Internet about how the CIA funded both Facebook and Google – thus compromising them as companies from the very start. And many of the other big companies mentioned in this Guardian article have acted in the past as virtual governmental entities in terms of providing official access to their data.

Google, we understand, operates a virtual second network – an internal one – directly available to the FBI and other domestic intelligence efforts. Within this context, the Constitution seems to have taken a distinctly secondary role.

But nonetheless, these tech giants are obviously worried about the Edward Snowden revelations regarding the blossoming Anglosphere Surveillance State and their roles in accommodating it.

Here's more:

"The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution," urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. "This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for change."

Several of the companies claim the revelations have shaken public faith in the internet and blamed spy agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests. "People won't use technology they don't trust," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it."

Silicon Valley was initially sceptical of some allegations about NSA practices made by Snowden but as more documentary evidence has emerged in the Guardian and other newspapers detailing the extent of western surveillance capabilities, its eight leading players – collectively valued at $1.4tn – have been stung into action amid fears of commercial damage.

"We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens," they say in the letter. "But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide."

A separate list of five "reform principles" signed by the normally fiercely competitive group echoes measures to rein in the NSA contained in bipartisan legislation proposed by the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, and the Republican author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner.

Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.

"Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications," says the companies' new list of principles. They also argue that requests for companies to hand over individual data should be limited by new rules that balance the "need for the data in limited circumstances, users' reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the internet".

The eight technology companies also hint at new fears, particularly that competing national responses to the Snowden revelations will not only damage their commercial interests but also lead to a balkanisation of the web as governments try to prevent internet companies from escaping overseas. "The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust, 21st century, global economy," the companies argue in the list of reform principles.

"Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country's borders or operate locally."

And they argue foreign governments need to come together to agree new international standards regulating surveillance, hinting at legal disputes and damage to international trade otherwise. "In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty – or "MLAT" – processes," say the companies.

The funniest part of this article is the statement that "Silicon Valley was initially skeptical of some allegations about NSA practices made by Snowden." As we understand it, this is far from the truth. Top tech officials have been aware of every part of the US government's ambitious spying program and have continuously supported it.

But we are supposed to believe somehow that the US's biggest tech firms are passive victims along with everybody else. This perpetuates the myth that Edward Snowden is a daredevil whistleblower who has opened the world's eyes to surveillance abuses.

C'mon. Like Julian Assange, Snowden is playing a part – whether or not he is aware of it. His role is to offer a limited hangout. We can see this in the reporting on his leaks.

  • People have learned – suddenly – that the US especially has incredible surveillance capabilities and has stored data on everyone going back at least 10 years.
  • We are supposed to believe that the US's surveillance capabilities have been strictly monitored by top military men and civilians who are intensely moral and ethical and have fought hard to make sure that the government did not compromise the privacy of a single US citizen.
  • We have been told that the Anglosphere generally has only created this sort of Orwellian world because of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent unfolding of the "war on terror."
  • We are informed what is needed now is more government involvement in laws and treaties that safeguard privacy rights.
  • Above all, governments have to come together to create a stronger and more centralized Internet that is neither Balkanized nor resistant to "lawful requests for data" – whatever that euphemism means.

Let's sum this up within the context that the super-elites want us to understand:

First, if you did something "wrong" even ten years ago, you should be very scared that if you somehow confront the government, bureaucrats will have a way of making trouble for you.

Second, the top men in government are truly idealistic and have been waging a silent war on our behalf to make sure that even the most intrusive surveillance was conducted in a lawful way.

Third, the result of the agitation created by the Snowden revelations will surely be a renewed effort by Anglosphere and European governments to ensure that all citizens can live their lives knowing that governments are dedicated to ensuring their privacy and will only use the vast power of the surveillance state to spy on them if they have done something wrong.

None of this is especially accurate, in our view. Government may NOT have the historical capabilities intel bureaucrats want you to believe they have. And certainly government officials are not going to provide the solutions to the privacy problems they have created.

Bottom line: The Western surveillance state is the extraordinary and effortful result of top globalists who intend to use the intimidation of this newly created state to intimidate anyone who wishes to get in the way of renewed internationalism.

The West's intel communities work directly for the banking families and their associated facilities. Privacy rights are entirely unimportant within this context. The only reason they have come up is because the Anglosphere needed some way to announce the arrival of a full-blown Spying Era.

Governments are not going to do away with the surveillance state, nor are they even going to ameliorate it. Nor are the executives of the leading tech firms now making indignant sounds about government spying.

It is interesting that the top elites were willing to damage their bought-and-paid-for electronic franchises in order to let people know about what had been built and implemented. Anyway, this is part of an elaborate dance. One cannot look to either government or Silicon Valley for any help with privacy concerns.

After Thoughts

It is up to individuals and concerned entrepreneurs to provide the appropriate prophylactics.

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