Security

Will the tech world ever trust the U.S. government again?

Above: An anti-NSA PRISM rally in NYC

Image Credit: Kyle Depew
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With news that the NSA is tapping directly into Google and Yahoo’s data centers, it seems as if every technology company’s worst fears about government surveillance have come to pass.

The scary thing? We likely haven’t uncovered the full extent of the NSA’s reach yet.

It’s no surprise that tech companies are actively trying to defend themselves from future government snooping. As the New York Times reports, big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter are now following in Google’s footsteps by encrypting user traffic.

But defensive efforts are getting even more extreme: Google, for example, began encrypting its internal network’s traffic this summer, months before it knew for sure that the government had access to those servers. And as the NSA’s efforts appear more damning with every new leaked document (passed to the press by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden), it’s as if we can see the trust between the tech world and the government disappearing before our eyes.

Inevitably, the relationship between the American government and the tech world will be an uneasy one for some time in the aftermath of all these discoveries.

Tech companies likely felt betrayed as the first leaked NSA documents pointed to their direct involvement in surveillance efforts, which many have responded to by publicly decrying surveillance tactics and listing the amount of government requests they receive. But with news that the government is directly targeting their servers, we can expect an even more aggressive response.

As the NYT’s Claire Cain Miller puts it, “frustration has turned to outrage, and cooperation has turned to war.”

While the NSA’s spying revelations have hurt our standing with countries around the world, a rift between the United States’ rapidly growing tech sector and a government that needs as much tech help as it can get could be catastrophic for future projects.

With Healthcare.gov, we’re seeing the results of a rushed government tech project without the help of the country’s tech community. Now, at least from my perspective, it’s going to be even harder to rally the tech world for future projects. I don’t expect tech firms to stop fighting for government contracts, but the loss of trust could easily impact future projects.

(To their credit, Google, Oracle, and Red Hat are offering up some of their best engineers to fix the faulty health insurance site. But as we’ve reported, a “tech surge” likely won’t be enough to help.)

The paradox for many technology companies is that their businesses are built on collecting vast amounts of user data for advertising — something that the likes of Google and Facebook aren’t going to give up anytime soon, but which intelligence agencies would continue to find very valuable.

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

Google's innovative search technologies connect millions of people around the world with information every day. Founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google today is a top web property in all major glob... read more »

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