There’s a growing rift between Silicon Valley and the secretive National Security Agency — and it’s growing wider as more major tech companies and influencers in the community take a stand.
With billions of dollars and the trust of their customers’ on the line, there’s plenty at risk for those developing the latest social network or app that millions enjoy. This, of course, runs counter to the NSA “collect it all” mentality in the interest of national security.
Writing on the blog of his Palo Alto-based venture capital firm Harrison Metal, Michael Dearing labels the situation as “100% unacceptable.”
“My concern is more personal and local: the NSA’s version of patriotism is corroding Silicon Valley,” Dearing writes. “Integrity of our products, creative freedom of talented people, and trust with our users are the casualties. The dolphin in the tuna net is us — our industry, our work, and the social fabric of our community.”
Dearing, who has made investments in DocVerse, CafePress, AdMob and others, echoes concerns made by others in the industry who have raised similar concerns — such as Microsoft deeming government snooping an “advanced persistent threat” that may be unconstitutional, and Apple’s labelling of the NSA as “malicious hackers.”
On his blog, Dearing writes (emphasis our own):
Inside our companies and research centres, talented minds are being conscripted into surveillance. Think about the software developers who wrote the code behind your email service. Or the team who built the guts of a blogging service’s geo-location features. Not one of them chose to work for the NSA. But their work has been co-opted, effectively turned into surveillance tools. The freedom of talented people to work for whom they choose, building what they choose, for the purpose they choose is being deleted. This is another deep violation of our community’s social fabric.
All this leads back to trust. Billions of people let Silicon Valley into their daily lives and they hug it close. They trust our products to find information, to get work done, to talk to each other, to buy and sell stuff, and to have fun. That trust is a decades-old endowment built up by inventor-founders from Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore through to the present day. The magic of compound growth works in our favour when trust is accumulating. But now we are making trust withdrawals every day as people around the world learn how the NSA has woven surveillance, search, and seizure into and around our products. This is the painful flip side of compound growth: the trust withdrawals compound too.
Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many others may be U.S.-based but their global services are used by billions of people worldwide, so it’s not hard to understand their stance on the issue of private customer data.
Much of the backlash towards the NSA has stemmed from disclosures leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who stole 200,000 documents from his workplace and fled the country. While the disclosures are far from over, he’s revealed that the NSA collects records of every U.S. phone call, its infiltration of Google and Yahoo’s cloud data, and an NSA program which is able to install spyware on 100% of Apple’s products.