Google to Obama: Leave Us Out of Your Spying Fight

Silicon Valley doesn’t want people to confuse NSA prying with private data mining.

Caption:MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 30: A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California. Google reported a 17 percent rise in fourth quarter earnings with profits of $3.38 billion, or $9.90 a share compared to $2.9 billion, or $8.62 per share one year ago.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
April 8, 2014, 2:59 p.m.

Google is get­ting nervous.

On the one hand, the In­ter­net be­hemoth wants the pub­lic to know it’s out­raged by U.S. sur­veil­lance pro­grams and is ag­gress­ively lob­by­ing for new rules to keep its cus­tom­ers’ data safe from the gov­ern­ment’s pry­ing eyes.

But as pub­lic at­ten­tion turns to data pri­vacy, Google, Face­book, Ya­hoo, and oth­er tech gi­ants want to be sure that their own data-gath­er­ing prac­tices don’t get lumped in with the fed­er­al spy­ing pro­grams that are the tar­get of pop­u­lar ire.

At the top of their worry list: The White House is hold­ing the two up side-by-side. In Pres­id­ent Obama’s speech in Janu­ary out­lining Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency re­forms, he also ordered a John Podesta-led re­view of “big data,” the col­lec­tion and stor­age of massive amounts of per­son­al in­form­a­tion — in­clud­ing by private com­pan­ies.

The im­pli­cit mes­sage from the White House is that while the pub­lic has raised le­git­im­ate pri­vacy con­cerns about NSA spy­ing, sim­il­ar data-min­ing prac­tices by private com­pan­ies shouldn’t es­cape scru­tiny.

So when White House of­fi­cials in­vited out­side in­put from the pub­lic on the “big data” re­view, the tech world’s loudest voices were more than happy to of­fer an ear­ful. The com­pan­ies’ oft-re­peated mes­sage to the ad­min­is­tra­tion: Don’t con­flate your spy­ing prac­tices with our data-pri­vacy plans.

“We urge the ad­min­is­tra­tion to be cog­niz­ant that gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance and com­mer­cial pri­vacy are sep­ar­ate and dis­tinct is­sues,” the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation, a lob­by­ing group that rep­res­ents Google, Face­book, Ya­hoo, and oth­ers, wrote in a com­ment. “Giv­en that In­ter­net com­pan­ies aim to provide trans­par­ency, choice, and con­trol to con­sumers, ef­forts to con­flate these is­sues are coun­ter­pro­duct­ive, par­tic­u­larly giv­en how little trans­par­ency cit­izens cur­rently have when it comes to gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance.”

BSA — a soft­ware lob­by­ing group that in­cludes Apple, Mi­crosoft, and IBM — urged the White House to make all ef­forts to “avoid con­flat­ing gov­ern­ment and com­mer­cial in­terests in data.”

One tech­no­logy-in­dustry lob­by­ist said there is wide­spread frus­tra­tion with the White House for con­duct­ing the big-data and NSA re­views in par­al­lel.

“Com­pan­ies have very spe­cif­ic re­la­tion­ships with their users, and they tell them what they’re do­ing with their data,” the tech lob­by­ist said, adding that it is an “apples and or­anges” com­par­is­on to NSA sur­veil­lance.

The White House did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Tech com­pan­ies are lob­by­ing against NSA spy­ing be­cause they worry it could un­der­mine trust in their ser­vices. But they de­pend on the abil­ity to har­vest data about users to tar­get ad­vert­ising and to provide oth­er ser­vices.

The White House has ac­know­ledged — and the tech com­pan­ies have em­phas­ized — that massive data­bases can power in­nov­at­ive new ser­vices that be­ne­fit con­sumers. The in­dustry points to ser­vices that more ef­fect­ively scan emails for spam, help drivers avoid traffic, and pre­dict the weath­er. Data are also help­ing sci­ent­ists study dis­eases and de­vel­op more-ef­fect­ive treat­ments.

Gautam Hans, an at­tor­ney for the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy, a con­sumer-ad­vocacy group, agreed that the con­cerns about gov­ern­ment and private uses of data are dif­fer­ent. But he ar­gued that Con­gress should en­act more lim­it­a­tions on how private com­pan­ies can col­lect and handle private in­form­a­tion.

“In the big-data con­text, much of it is sens­it­ive in­form­a­tion like health data or loc­a­tion data, so private com­pan­ies all need to re­cog­nize that pri­vacy and se­cur­ity are im­port­ant, and these are not min­im­al con­cerns,” he said.

Al­though the tech com­pan­ies are nervous about hav­ing the spot­light on them, the chances for new on­line-pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions still ap­pear slim. The White House an­nounced a “Con­sumer Pri­vacy Bill of Rights” in 2012, but the is­sue has gone nowhere on Cap­it­ol Hill.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4875) }}

What We're Following See More »
CALIFORNIA MAKES IT 21
FDA to Ban All Tobacco Sales to Minors
41 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

In a long-awaiting new rule, the Food and Drug Administration will ban sale of all tobacco products—including e-cigarettes—to those under 18. The rule takes effect in 90 days. It's part of a larger package of regulations that "gives FDA authority to regulate—but not to ban—all tobacco products, from e-cigarettes to cigars and hookahs." Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill on Wednesday that would bump the legal age to buy all tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Source:
#NEVERTRUMP
Sen. Sasse Calls for a Third Candidate
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Ben Sasse, the most prominent elected official to declare that he's #NeverTrump, wrote an open letter on Facebook to the "majority of Americans who wonder why the nation that put a man on the moon can’t find a healthy leader who can take us forward together." Calling to mind recent conversations at a Fremont, Neb., Walmart, the senator pitted the presumptive general election battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as such a "terrible choice" that there would be an appetite for another candidate to emerge. In a parenthetical aside to reporters, Sasse ruled himself out. "Such a leader should be able to campaign 24/7 for the next six months," he wrote. "Therefore he/she likely can’t be an engaged parent with little kids." Meanwhile, his colleague Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted in a private recording obtained by Politico that Trump hurts his reelection chances.

Source:
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
CLINTON HERSELF COULD TESTIFY LATER
Judge Approves Deposition of Clinton Aides
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a joint proposal presented by Judicial Watch and the State Department to take the depositions of officials" involved in the setup and use of Hillary Clinton's private email server, "including Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, Huma Abedin, a senior adviser to Clinton, and Bryan Pagliano, a State Department employee who serviced and maintained the server." He said Clinton could be deposed later on, though that may not be necessary.

Source:
‘WORLD CLASS’ ORGANIZATION
Trump Will Not Self Fund the General Election
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump will not self-finance his general election campaign as he did the primary season, instead relying on "his expansive personal Rolodex" to create what he called a “world-class finance organization." 

Source:
×