As I write this I’m angry at the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, for their shoddy, shallow coverage of reformgovernmentsurveillance.com (let’s say “RGS” for short). But the trap they fell into is probably attractive to many flavors of media.
The 6PM news report opened with a few seconds of Zuckerberg saying he thought the government was blowing it in this space, then another few words from Zoe Lofgren talking about the NSA putting American business at a disadvantage. (Do ya think?!)
Then there was a sudden 180° shift into hard polemics, with a snotty British professor opining that it was all the companies’ fault because they were sucking up the information, and the NSA wouldn’t come after it if the companies weren’t collecting it, would they? There was some more yammering about hypocrisy, then they went to the next story.
So what’s wrong with that? · Indeed, most (not all) of the RGS companies track a whole lot of information about a whole lot of people, and use it to help sell ads and make money.
So, that granted:
What about, you know, the issues? The light cast by the Snowden documents has revealed an egregiously intrusive snooping regime that contravenes what a lot of us understood our constitutions to say. Could the coverage at least acknowledge that this is seen by many as a problem?
News flash: A lot of the information that’s useful in selling advertising (clickstream, search terms, likes) is irrelevant to the spooks. They want to know whom you’re talking to and what you’re saying; everything else is secondary.
These tax-funded banditos put taps in privately-owned fiber trunks between data centers to pull out raw application data with no regard to who or what it was about.
There were some other news angles you think would be interesting. First of all, how did this get wrangled? Getting the egomaniacs on all these exec teams to line up and play nice is a hell of an achievement by, well, someone; who? Also, why isn’t Amazon there? Also, why is Apple’s logo weirdly missing from the headline space? Those are interesting, but they’d have required reporting, not just scraping up a random academic to shovel world-weary cynicism.
For what it’s worth · I know this will sound sort of old-fashioned, but I can tell you from experience that Google is bulging with people who think that everyone’s freedom to say anything to anyone anywhere using the Internet makes the world a significantly better place, and who are deeply angry with the spooks’ shotgun blast at everyone’s presumption of privacy.
So, granted: Pervasive surveillance is bad for the companies who make money on the Internet. That’s a side-effect of being bad for the Internet. And being bad for freedom.
Me: I’m in favor of the rule of laws not men; and not shadowy three-letter-agencies either. So I’m proud to be a teeny-tiny part of the work at places like the IETF on doing a better job at protecting privacy. But at the end of the day this is a political problem, and it’s useful (I think) to have big Internet companies as political allies.