Tech Execs Express Extreme Concern That NSA Surveillance Could Lead To 'Breaking' The Internet

from the moral,-economic-and-patriotic dept

As mentioned, on Wednesday I attended a tech exec panel held at Palo Alto High School (in the high school gym, which was a weird sort of setting for such a high powered gathering of folks — complete with gym echoes, and school bells buzzing, at one point leading a bunch of students to stream out to lunch just as Google’s Eric Schmidt started talking). You can see the video of the event here where the sound is actually much, much clearer than in the gym itself, where the buzzing old lights made it nearly impossible to hear half of the panelists).

Nothing necessarily earth-shattering was said by anyone, but it did involve a series of high powered tech execs absolutely slamming the NSA and the intelligence community, and warning of the vast repercussions from that activity, up to and including potentially splintering or “breaking” the internet by causing people to so distrust the existing internet, that they set up separate networks on their own.

The execs repeated the same basic points over and over again. They had been absolutely willing to work with law enforcement when and where appropriate based on actual court orders and review — but that the government itself completely poisoned the well with its activities, including hacking into the transmission lines between overseas datacenters. Thus, as Eric Schmidt noted, if the NSA and other law enforcement folks are “upset” about Google and others suddenly ramping up their use of encryption and being less willing to cooperate with the government, they only have themselves to blame for completely obliterating any sense of trust.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith, towards the end, made quite an impassioned plea — it sounded more like a politician’s stump speech — about the need for rebuilding trust in the internet. It’s at about an hour and 3 minutes into the video. He points out that while people had expected Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, the rise of ISIS and other claimed threats has some people scared, but, he notes:

We need to look the world’s dangers in the face. And we need to resolve that we will not allow the dangers of the world to freeze this country in its tracks. We need to recognize that antiquated laws will not keep the public safe. We need to recognize that laws that the rest of the world does not respect will ultimately undermine the fundamental ability of our own legal processes, law enforcement agencies and even the intelligence community itself. At the end of the day, we need to recognize… the one asset that the US has which is even stronger than our military might is our moral authority. And this decline in trust, has not only effected people’s trust in American technology products. It has effected people’s willingness to trust the leadership of the United States. If we are going to win the war on terror. If we are going to keep the public safe. If we are going to improve American competitiveness, we need Congress to stay on the path it’s set. We need Congress to finish in December the job the President put before Congress in January.

It was a good talk, and it basically was a chance for all these tech execs to express similar concerns and to do so loudly. It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that the tech industry was complacent on these issues in the past, that they were too trusting (often way too trusting) of the government, that they should have started from a position of distrust and should have encrypted everything possible from the get go. Frankly, those are very legitimate criticisms. But, it’s pretty clear that these tech companies are now pissed off at the government and the fact that it undermined everything, including their own businesses around the globe — and they’re determined to win back the trust of the public, whether or not the government is willing to cooperate. I find that encouraging, though I’d still like to see pretty much all of the companies do even more on the encryption front.

As I said, there wasn’t anything earth shattering, but it’s clear that these companies have all seen the impact from the government’s overbroad surveillance efforts, and they’re not just concerned about it from their direct bottom line, but what it means for the overall internet. Multiple execs talked about not just moral authority, as Smith mentioned, but the moral imperative to use the internet to create greater connectivity and raise the ability of people around the globe — and how much more difficult the NSA had made things.

I know that some cynical folks will claim this is all for show. But there is a real concern that comes across here about just how devastating the NSA’s actions have been (and continue to be). Schmidt was absolutely right that if law enforcement and the intelligence community is upset about it, they only have themselves to blame.

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Companies: google, microsoft

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Comments on “Tech Execs Express Extreme Concern That NSA Surveillance Could Lead To 'Breaking' The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Intelligence: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

The Public: But you hide everthing.

Intelligence: Yeah, because we’re afraid of you! Seeing the public as the main source of trouble in the world is the best way to protect the public.

The Public: Who protects us from you?

Intelligence: Trust us.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Politics could indeed use less of it nowadays, though… everyone has an overly simplistic view of the world that acts as their religion for all intents and purposes, regardless of whether God is involved or not. This includes you when you say faith is for religions and me when I disagree with you.

Furthermore, faith is very important for certain aspects of daily life, like the value of money or the performance of the stock market. There’s also various oddities like the placebo effect, where simply having enough faith that a drug will help you can cause it to do so even if it’s not a drug at all, and the Centipede’s Dilemma where if you do more than just believe when performing a task, you’re liable to overthink and start goofing up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: (faith)

…faith is very important for certain aspects of daily life, like the value of money or the performance of the stock market…

At least these have benchmarks that can be consulted to see if our faith holds true or if we need to reconsider. What faith we have in politics depends on the political platform. How often have these changed, even within the same political party?

Anonymous Coward says:

The cheery quality of Wyden’s voice was beginning to play on the DNI’s nerves. It sounded like someone relentlessly playing the kazoo during one of the more somber passages of a war requiem.

The DNI ejected his magazine and carefully removed a single round from the clip. With his knife he scratched something on the business end of the projectile which Wyden couldn’t make out and then replaced the round and slid his magazine back in place in one silky motion punctuated by a satisfying click.

He looked at Wyden and raised his weapon.

He said, “I wrote my name on that bullet so everyone will know the last thing that went through your head.”

Wyden’s voice no longer held that cheery quality.

That last thing he heard was the harsh click of the safety being disengaged.

Anonymous Coward says:

…up to and including potentially splintering or “breaking” the internet by causing people to so distrust the existing internet, that they set up separate networks on their own.

I’m not sure about that. A network, by definition is vulnerable. Second, a reduction in scope may make it economically unfeasible, Better encryption seems like the way forward. I don’t see 99% + of internet users willing to utilize a limited network out of privacy concerns at the expense of utility.

AJ says:

Too late!

Napster and the like really hasn’t taught them anything has it? Instead of them gaining control, it’s going to fracture into a thousand pieces.

“causing people to so distrust the existing internet, that they set up separate networks on their own.”

This is inevitable. Like a child standing in front of a giant mountain of candy, it’s impossible for them to resist the temptation to gain more of what they desire the most of, power. Historically speaking, the government has never allowed a communications platform to exist where they did not have absolute control. They would rather destroy it than allow it to be truly free.

Anonymous Coward says:

the NSA and other security forces will take no notice at all of the concers. well, not that is until they have actually broken the ‘net! when that day comes, there will be huge sighs of relief from both governments and industries! a new ‘Internet’ will be erected but it will be available only to those who (purposefully) broke the old one. if the people want to use the internet, it will have to be under full surveillance and only with very stringent conditions in force, that can be accessed at any time to see what the person under the microscope at the time has been doing!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s massive paranoia, there’s way too much money to be made by companies of all sorts with this internet. That’s really silly of you.

Fracturing into different networks could happen, but most likely that would be at a national level, I very much doubt countries that usually elect social-democratic parties or even centrist parties (in places in the world where the differences are actually real, so, almost every democracy out there except the US…). The US does not control the Internet, its even about to, or did give up one of the last things it controlled about it…I forgot what exactly, there was an article about it here or on ars.

Lots of websites I know of have moved their servers to Canada since a couple years for example.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Fracturing into different networks could happen, but most likely that would be at a national level”

Not only could, but is happening. Splitting at the national level is clearly part of the equation — but the real fracturing doesn’t split along those lines. The real fracturing is the creation of private networks for subgroups that are independent of political borders.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

The voice of reason...not

I am not trying to be the voice of reason but I am going play the part on the internet.

The conundrum is that trust is a beast that can not be easily seen or assessed.


We can all arguably agree that the government needs some ability to monitor what is going on in the world and that sometimes that monitoring needs to be kept secret.

We can all arguably agree that privacy is a big concern and that there needs to be some safeguards to prevent abuse.

We can all arguably agree that individual rights should be alway paramount and that there must be a legally valid reason anytime an entity decides to impinge on those rights.

We can all arguably agree that when the balance is tipped either way the best interests of all of us are compromised.

Right now I think it typical over-reaction mentality the government has become or acted more like an over-lord or dictator.

To quote:

“After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933, he moved quickly to turn Germany into a one-party dictatorship and to organize the police power necessary to enforce Nazi policies. He persuaded his Cabinet to declare a state of emergency and end individual freedoms, including freedom of press, speech, and assembly. Individuals lost the right to privacy, which meant that officials could read people’s mail, listen in on telephone conversations, and search private homes without a warrant.”

AJ says:

Re: The voice of reason...not

“We can all arguably agree that the government needs some ability to monitor what is going on in the world and that sometimes that monitoring needs to be kept secret. “

I would love to agree with you, unfortunately, I honestly don’t believe the Government knows moderation. It can’t help but to cross the line, and do so as soon as they believe they can and not get caught.

Power to politicians, is Like alcohol to an alcoholic, there is no moderation, it’s all or nothing.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re: The voice of reason...not

No, probably not with “harm in thought”. It probably does start out with “a delusional sense of helping”. But somewhere along the line it changes, I don’t pretend to know why or when, but it does. There is the rare jewel that is so principled that they cannot be swayed, to them I tip my hat, but I think we can all agree that principled, non-corruptible politicians are more endangered than the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.

Edward Teach says:

Breakup of The Internet might be a goal

Who’s to say that breakup of The Internet isn’t a big goal in the first place?

If it’s hard to find people with similar views, groups with those views can’t organize. There’s a problem done away with if and when MSFTCP/IP separates from TCP/IP networks and from AAPLTCP/IP networks, for example.

If the Chinese or the Turks or the Iranians do their own shoddy TCP and/or IP lookalikes, that just makes them easier to exploit and subvert. A smaller network with it’s own protocols is bound to be buggier than a global network whose implementations are all scoured. Hardware will be more expensive on a smaller scale, so fewer, possibly more centralized routers and routing. Hey, the same goes for the US, too! More expensive routers and less reviewed, possibly proprietary protocols are probably easier to subvert and track and everything else.

Say good bye to open source software, suckers!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Breakup of The Internet might be a goal


except that you only need to find one mistake in a global implementation to crack the entire internet (figuratively speaking).

If each country has it’s own proprietary protocol.. you now need to spend tons of time for every country you want to monitor. Sounds like an absolote nightmare even if finding a mistake is easier

Anonymous Coward says:

Every country has what they consider to be their own secrets. When those secrets are revealed to the public, they get all bent out of shape, often because of improprieties.

There is very little a government actually needs to hide from it’s citizens. When it is done so, invariably it leads to cover up and hiding falsehoods.

When you consider SWAT team functions today, the security arms of government, and the willingness of government to pursue whistle blowers, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between Russia, China, and the US. For the now it’s a matter of degree but that may not continue to be so.

Anonymous Coward says:

These execs seemed most concerned about being forced to build data centers in every country they operate in. Labeling these moves as “protectionism”.

I don’t see how building American data centers in sovereign foreign countries will help protect data. US courts have already ruled that American companies must retrieve any data they’re storing on foreign soil, and provide it to the US courts in secrete. Without notifying the host country’s judicial system or account holder.

Perhaps this is the real reason cloud companies are starting to push encryption. If data in foreign data centers is encrypted, and American cloud providers have no access to the keys. Then there’s no way for a US court to compel them to secretly hand over the data to the US judicial system.

I’m happy Ron Wyden stated his position on backdoors. It’s good to know he’s against them and realizes backdoors can be accessed by criminals, terrorists, and law enforcement alike. Compromising the safety and security of us all.

Mark Noo (profile) says:

We do the same things ourselves. A cop asks us to do something and we do it. We don’t think we can say no. The government relies on us not exercising our rights.

Some people even allow vehicle searches when they know there are drugs in the trunk.

I cannot believe the amount of organizing going on over the internet. It is extremely encouraging to me. People are saying NO and not just one person at a town hall meeting. They are getting thousands of signatures to support their position.
This is a very exciting time. This is when we will find out if the people are the government or if government thinks we belong to them.

The ability to communicate is too robust for us not to find out what the governments of the world are doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They actually cannot search your trunk if it’s locked, they need to have it towed if a warrant is served on the field, which is extremely rare. Also, lower your window the less possible to give license and registration and if asked to get out of the car, lock your door (don’t forget to take your keys too. And if asked why you locked your door, say “force of habit, is there a problem officer ? If there isn’t I’d rather be leaving if that’s possible. There’s a video released by the ACLU and approved by a bunch of lawyers in the US called : Busted! everyone should see it. They give ways to engage the police in different situations whether you have drugs or not (2 out of 3 of the situations acted by real cops (crazy right? cops who still follow the Law) and actors)…the case where no drugs are present is race profiling/harassing (black guy waiting for the bus for a long time because it’s coming the other way before so he’ll have to wait 30 minutes and the cops act crooked and manage to arrest him…so

protip : be white, it’s easier

jk, sort of…I was just listening to the song Three Strikes by Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medecine (the singer of Dead Kennedys finally found a band able to play his strange form of hardcore punk rock) and at one time he goes “paying in cash while black” when listing a bunch of offenses that could get you life in prison in some states that have the three strikes thing.

“Life in prison for stealing a can of beer.” Wow, the young me working at the Supermarket while 16 to 20 (its legal to drink at 18 here but thats not related), I’d be suffering multiple life sentences for all the cases of beer I placed somewhere out of sight to leave with….yeah I was a little bastard.

tl;dr They can’t force open a locked trunk if you do not consent to a search. The best way not to consent to a search is kinda strange, because saying nothing is the best way than saying No you do not consent, well no excuse me, it’s saying “Why? Am I free to go? I’m going to be late to X.” this sort of thing. I’m not american and when i was smoking marijuana and making large purchases that would fall into criminal territory (over 30g) in my country, 30g and under, cops just steal it and smoke it themselves, I would put the stuff in the trunk. Just watch Busted, it might help you out, unless the cop starts spraying you/beating the shit out of you etc. for being smarter than them. Also I encourage everyone to do like the Russians, install a camera on your car, over there its mandatory, but yeah, install a camera that can see all angles except in the front of the car, not much usually happens in the front of your car, never heard of cops wanting to check your motor and oil levels.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Also, with all the grey market drugs sold on the internet (which are mostly safe, I hear), they are simply analogs of banned substances and the DEA since these sort of vendors exist only bans one of those drugs if someone dies and it makes the news.

Exception being the states that banned Salvia….a waste of time, as I hear it is a profoundly unpleasant dissociative drug, it acts on the kappa opioid receptor as an antagonist…which means it procures an effect which is the reverse of feelings of reward and morphine…not a feel good plant.

They’re fully aware of loads of sites that are not scams selling grey market stuff and they leave them alone, which is interesting to me. Kinda like if they silently give them the go ahead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Roundtable participants include:
Eric Schmidt — Executive Chairman, Google
Brad Smith — Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Microsoft
Colin Stretch — General Counsel, Facebook
Ramsey Homsany — General Counsel, Dropbox
John Lilly — Partner, Greylock Partners

Basically all those who are against anonymity on the internet.

GEMont (profile) says:

If it aint broke...

“‘Breaking’ The Internet”

No, no, no! Not “breaking” the Internet.

“Fixing!” the Internet, don’t you see.

Because its not “controlled” by authority, its already broken. In fact, its always been broken.

You cannot have an un-owned, uncontrolled public inter-active communications network in an Ownership Society.

The boys just want to “fix” it, the way they fixed TV, Radio and the Newspapers.

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