aNewDomain commentary — Well, here they go again.
Two years ago, a NSA whistleblower revealed that many of Silicon Valley’s technology giants had bent over backwards to cooperate with the National Security Agency and other departments of the post-9/11 surveillance police state.
Companies like Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Google watched their public reputations implode as it came out that they had voluntarily turned over their customers’ private data to the NSA, even without government suspicions that these users could be terrorists.
Adding to the metaphorical egg on the techies’ collective faces was the embarrassment that followed when the NSA sold them out.
In March 2014, the NSA’s top lawyer testified to Congress that tech companies lied when they said they weren’t intimately involved with privacy-busting NSA programs like PRISM, which intercept every phone call, email, text message and video communication in the United States.
They knew, we found out then. They had to know.
So [tech companies] know that their data is being obtained?” James Dempsey, a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, asked the NSA attorney.
“Yes,” came the reply. “They would have received legal process in order to assist the government.”
Post-Snowden, individuals and companies concerned about NSA spying moved their business from Silicon Valley to overseas. Estimates of business lost as a result of the Snowden leaks ranged as high as $180 billion.
Last we heard, Silicon Valley’s largest companies were standing up to the FBI and NSA.
Here’s how Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine put it:
… the titans of Silicon Valley have finally banded together to tell Washington they’re tired of the NSA ruining public trust in the Internet by hoovering up every gigabit of data ever created.”
Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others publicly embraced encryption, promising to put their customers first. Homeland Security Department Head Jeh Johnson whined that post-Snowden privacy-firstism would make “it harder for the FBI and state and local law enforcement to track crime, to track potential terrorist activity.”
Surely you didn’t think the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its nosy pals would leave it at that.
According to a report today in The Guardian, the DHS-NSA-FBI security-industrial complex is using the threat of ISIS to bring Big Tech back into the fold. Here’s a disturbing excerpt:
Technology giants appeared to be open to helping the U.S. government combat Islamic State during an extraordinary closed-door summit on Friday that brought together America’s most senior counter-terrorism officials with some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful executives … The remarkable rendezvous between Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and others and a delegation from the White House revealed a willingness on the part of tech firms to work with the government, and indicated that the Obama administration appears to have concluded it can’t combat terrorists online on its own.”
And here’s the money shot (italicized section is my emphasis):
A briefing document sent to tech executives Friday morning in advance of the meeting and shared with The Guardian laid out a wish list from the government delegation, which included America’s most senior spy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. ‘We are interested in exploring all options with you for how to deal with the growing threat of terrorists and other malicious actors using technology, including encrypted technology,’ the briefing document said. ‘Are there technologies that could make it harder for terrorists to use the Internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize?'”
And then there’s this:
Facebook’s ‘chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, walked government officials through how (it) currently enables users to flag people who appear to be posting suicidal thoughts,’ a person familiar with the conversation said.”
Sandberg suggested that this technology could be used to
blow up subjects with drones target terror suspects.
It was, by all accounts, a friendly meeting.
Which is remarkable, considering how badly Big Tech got burned the last time they climbed in bed with the Obama administration.
Back in late 2013, Drum of Mother Jones mused “Next up: whether these guys are really serious” about maintaining independence from Washington’s privacy-raping spooks by putting their customers first.
Looks like we’ve got the answer.
For aNewDomain and the new SkewedNews, I’m Ted Rall.
Cover image: Homeland security Jeh Johnson shakes hands with Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, by Stephen McLaren for the Guardian, All Rights Reserved.