The Damage is Spreading: It’s Time to Rein in the NSA and Reform Surveillance Practices

Paula Musich
Paula Musich

Summary Bullets:

  • The fallout continues to spread as a result of the disclosure of NSA surveillance activities involving cloud computing and other technology companies
  • It’s time IT professionals get involved and call for reform and better oversight

New and startling revelations on NSA data gathering activities continue to peel away like an onion skin from the Edward Snowden leak, and as they do, it becomes ever so much clearer that the NSA has gone way, way too far.   And indeed it is time to reform regulation and oversight of NSA and other intelligence agency surveillance activities. 

This week the New York Times reported that U.S. and UK government spies have been infiltrating online games such as World of Warcraft, Second Life and others because they fear that terrorists are using those games to secretly communicate, plot attacks or move money – essentially hiding in plain sight.  In fact so many different spooks from different agencies were hunting around in those games that the leaked NSA documents described the need for a “deconfliction group” to be created to keep them from bumping into each other, the Times reported (and our tax dollars are paying for that?).

But beyond such ridiculous over-reach in surveillance activities, fears about the loss of privacy sparked by revelation of the NSA’s activities have already started to hurt the bottom line of high tech stalwarts such as Cisco and HP.  Both vendors suggested in reporting their most recent quarterly results that some international customers have hit the pause button on product acquisitions as a result of the NSA’s activities.  And the damage has spurred a group of normally fierce rivals to join together to call for reform not only with U.S. government agencies but other governments around the globe.

Now there’s no small amount of irony in the fact that several of the founding members of the new Global Government Surveillance Reform group use the same or very similar technology to gather behavioral pattern data on their customers.  The band of eight includes AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo!.  Some if not all of these players profit from opening up the details of their customers’ private lives.  How can they credibly call for reform when they profit from carrying out similar activities?  Of course they are calling for reform because as cloud computing companies, their businesses will, if they haven’t already, take a serious hit as a result of the trust issues the NSA access to their data centers has caused.

But whether these are the most appropriate or credible companies to lobby for change, lobby we must.  These surveillance practices are hurting the competitiveness of U.S.-based technology companies and doing little to keep the citizenry safe from terrorist attacks.  I urge you to write or call your congressmen and press them to initiate reforms.  And/or join the lobbying efforts of organizations like the Global Government Surveillance Reform group (their website is or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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