The fight for policy is often fought along K Street not in the Capitol or in the White House. In Gucci Gulch the future of industries is worked out. Who gets government largess, who does not. Who gets what contract, who does not. Who gets surveilled and…
The tech titans have joined forces and have hired a pin striped warrior to do battle with the NSA (At least in some limited form. They aren’t going to go crazy.) It’s pay to play in Washington and the tech companies have money. (If not control over their code.)
Tech is probably the most important US industry. It now faces an existential threat in NSA spying. Many of the companies represented in the new coalition have already lost orders overseas. They’ve probably lost business domestically also.
In a free country the government should not be spying on its people. We have a 4th Amendment which specifically outlaws “unreasonable searches and seizures.” If collecting every keystroke ever made on any computer for later analysis isn’t a violation of the 4th Amendment, then what IS a violation?
The thing is there is a large group of people, people in the intelligence community and politicians, who have gone along with bulk data collection for years. Thousands of people, with careers, who will say that they were/are just doing their jobs. Not to mention all the contractors which help develop the technologies who make millions. How would it look if suddenly such data collection was seen as a violation of American principals, officially? Suddenly all of these people have a huge black mark against them. Careers would be hobbled. Millions of dollars worth of contracts might disappear.
There is huge institutional momentum for keeping the current shenanigans going. It’s not simply because General Clapper thinks its good for the safety of the country. People’s jobs are at stake and NSA agents have mortgages to pay too. Big ones. This drives a lot of what is going on but it is seldom talked about.
But the stakes for the big tech companies are even higher than for the intel community. If American tech is perceived as fundamentally untrustworthy, and that is the growing consensus around the world, then profits will be impacted. People will lose their jobs. American supremacy in tech will be under serious threat. The most important industry in the USA will become, over time, less vital, less innovative, less American, less profitable.
All because the folks in Washington went nuts after September 11th 2001.
I remember thinking on that day, as I watched the towers fall, as I sat in traffic at 10:30 am with the rest of the DC commuters making their way from the city, as I watched a woman in my apartment complex walk across the parking lot with her toddler in one hand and a shotgun in the other, that were were entering a very dangerous time. And not just because of the threat from terrorism, but because of how the politicians in DC were likely to react. Would the Constitution hold up under this mayhem?
Well, will it?
Since the summer, tech giants individually have ramped up their lobbying on the issue. Each quarter’s lobbying reports reflect that companies have committed new resources toward seeking more government transparency and, most recently, limits on what data the NSA can collect. Government surveillance first appeared in Apple’s lobbying reports in 2013, a year in which Apple in total spent more than it ever has in Washington. Facebook, meanwhile, only recently started warning U.S regulators about data “localization” — the idea, brewing overseas, that tech companies should locate their servers in the country where those users reside.