Latest NSA Overreach Awakens Tech Giants in Washington

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Nov. 3, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

The most re­cent round of Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency rev­el­a­tions have promp­ted ma­jor tech firms to pub­licly take a stronger stance against gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance activ­it­ies, an es­cal­a­tion that could por­tend a shift in the way Sil­ic­on Val­ley does busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton.

A group of six tech be­hemoths — Google, Ya­hoo, Apple, Face­book, Mi­crosoft, and Amer­ica On­line — sent a let­ter to law­makers last week call­ing for le­gis­la­tion to cur­tail the NSA’s au­thor­ity. The com­pan­ies spe­cific­ally cham­pioned the Free­dom Act, in­tro­duced by Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and former House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis., with sup­port from more than 80 co­spon­sors, for “mak­ing an im­port­ant con­tri­bu­tion to this dis­cus­sion.”

The let­ter came in the wake of new de­tails about NSA sur­veil­lance in The Wash­ing­ton Post, which re­por­ted about a pro­gram dubbed MUS­CU­LAR that secretly breaks in­to the on­line com­mu­nic­a­tion chan­nels of Google and Ya­hoo, scoop­ing up mil­lions of re­cords every day.

Google Ex­ec­ut­ive Chair­man Eric Schmidt has also joined the chor­us of agit­ata­tion, call­ing the new rev­el­a­tion “really out­rageous” if true.

“The steps that the (NSA) was will­ing to do without good judg­ment to pur­sue its mis­sion and po­ten­tially vi­ol­ate people’s pri­vacy, it’s not OK,” Schmidt told The Wall Street Journ­al. “The Snowden rev­el­a­tions have as­sisted us in un­der­stand­ing that it’s per­fectly pos­sible that there are more rev­el­a­tions to come.”

Wheth­er more rev­el­a­tions are com­ing or not, the latest spate “will fur­ther strain the re­la­tion­ship between Sil­ic­on Val­ley and the NSA be­cause it in­volves in­trud­ing in­to the in­tern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions of the com­pan­ies,” said Ed Fel­ten, dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy Policy at Prin­ceton Uni­versity. “Rather than us­ing court or­ders served on the com­pan­ies, I think this will be seen as cross­ing a bound­ary that people didn’t ex­pect gov­ern­ment to cross.”

The tech lobby will likely view the new al­leg­a­tions — that the NSA went be­hind their backs to col­lect data the agency could already largely ac­cess through court or­ders, and then gloated about it — as a dis­ap­point­ing, if un­sur­pris­ing, act of be­tray­al. But it is un­clear wheth­er the change in rhet­or­ic will amount to any on-the-ground change for how Sil­ic­on Val­ley en­gages with fed­er­al poli­cy­makers, or if their pos­tur­ing will im­pact any NSA bill’s chances of get­ting to the pres­id­ent’s desk.

The tech gi­ants for years have been look­ing for ways to bet­ter in­form their cus­tom­ers about “the size and scope of their co­oper­a­tion with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” said a Demo­crat­ic aide who has been work­ing on the Free­dom Act. “The pub­lic com­ment was a big shift.”

The firms are now lined up with an ar­ray of in­terests seek­ing sub­stant­ive re­forms in the NSA’s code of con­duct. That is it­self a shift, since the tech lobby has long been seen as dis­in­ter­ested or even dis­missive of Wash­ing­ton. The view has be­gun to change in re­cent years, however.

Google’s D.C. lob­by­ing ef­forts have ex­ploded over the last dec­ade, from vir­tu­ally no ex­pendit­ures to more than $18 mil­lion in 2012, ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. And Face­book founder Mark Zuck­er­berg is in­creas­ingly un­res­trained in his lob­by­ing for im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Des­pite the en­dorse­ment of some of tech’s largest play­ers, however, the Free­dom Act still has a long road ahead. Cur­rent House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va., has made pat­ent re­form his top le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­ity be­fore Con­gress ad­journs for the year.

What We're Following See More »
11 HOUSE MEMBERS NOW BEHIND HIM
Two Committee Chairs Endorse Trump
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Two powerful House members—Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL)—are throwing their support behind Donald Trump.

Source:
BUT WOULD HE THROW THE CHAIR?
Bobby Knight: Trump Would Drop the Bomb Just Like Truman
15 hours ago
THE LATEST
LAST PLACE
Trump Still Struggling for Endorsements
17 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
MORE INDEPENDENTS, FEWER SUPERDELEGATES
Sanders Could Force Changes to Nominating Process
20 hours ago
THE LATEST

There are not "ongoing, direct conversations between" the Bernie Sanders camp and the Hillary Clinton camp regarding "the platform or rules changes," but Sanders "is already making his opening arguments" about those issues on the stump. Sanders is putting "complaints about closed primaries" atop his stump speeches lately, and figures to start a "conversation about the role of superdelegates in the nominating process." He said, “Our goal, whether we win or we do not win, is to transform the Democratic Party."

Source:
‘LUCIFER IN THE FLESH’
Boehner Says He Wouldn’t Vote for Cruz
21 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Well, this is unsubtle. Former Speaker John Boehner called Ted Cruz "lucifer in the flesh," adding that he "never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." Boehner has endorsed John Kasich, but he said he'd vote for Donald Trump over Cruz. He also praised Bernie Sanders, calling him the most honest politician in the race, and predicted that Joe Biden may yet have a role to play in the Democratic contest, especially if Hillary Clinton runs into legal trouble over her emails.

Source:
×