One More Benefit From Snowden: Companies No Longer Lulled Into Helping NSA Without Legal Basis

from the sunshine-does-amazing-things dept

One of the earliest Snowden revelations wasn't just that the big telcos were closely cooperating with the NSA, but that they had sometimes proactively volunteered to hand over much more information than the law required. So far, there has not been any evidence that tech/internet companies were quite so cooperative, but it does seem clear that many were, at the very least, incurious concerning what the NSA was up to and somewhat apathetic concerning actual requests that came in from the NSA. While there were a few companies (not many) that appeared to push back in a few circumstances (again, not many), for the most part, when someone from the federal government showed up with requests, companies were pretty quick to comply.

To some extent, you can understand why: not only is it easy to assume that government officials demanding information from you have some sort of serious reason for doing so, all of it happened in secret -- meaning that the "benefits" to pushing back often seemed slight, while the costs could be tremendous.

Ed Snowden changed that cost-benefit equation in a big, big way.

And it's most obvious in this simple way: companies are now proactively doing everything possible to counteract the NSA, realizing that they actually have to think about the impact on their customers when (not if) these programs become public. What used to be a simple relationship, with a lot of help from various companies, has changed to something much more approaching a directly adversarial relationship.
As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the N.S.A. had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.

After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers.

[....]

A year after Mr. Snowden’s revelations, the era of quiet cooperation is over. Telecommunications companies say they are denying requests to volunteer data not covered by existing law. A.T.&T., Verizon and others say that compared with a year ago, they are far more reluctant to cooperate with the United States government in “gray areas” where there is no explicit requirement for a legal warrant.
There is still a long way to go, but just the fact that companies now have to take into account "how will this look when splashed across the internet" means that they're already going much, much further in protecting the privacy of their users and customers.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Michael, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 1:15pm

    Verizon and others say that compared with a year ago, they are far more reluctant to cooperate with the United States government in “gray areas” where there is no explicit requirement for a legal warrant

    It is so sad that this is progress.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      Agreed, but it would be even sadder if it were regression.

       

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      observer, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 12:47am

      Re:

      You have to wonder what they thought they were playing at. Did they seriously think that surrendering information without a warrant would keep the NSA off their backs, rather than just earn them a reputation as a soft target and the place for the NSA to go next time? Once you have paid him the Danegeld...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    Disturbingly helpful

    ... now have to take into account "how will this look when splashed across the internet" ....

    It is disturbing how many problems would be solved if management everywhere stopped to ask that question before they do something. Scandals would become an endangered species.

     

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      Bergman (profile), Jun 10th, 2014 @ 12:22am

      Re: Disturbingly helpful

      Personally, I think it comes down to knowing their own motives and assuming other people will judge them the way they judge themselves.

      It's human nature to judge others by their actions but to judge yourself by your known motives, but most people forget this in the heat of the moment. They feel they're doing what's right, but they never consider how those actions will look to others.

      An executive might know he'd never use personal data for creepy purposes, so he orders it collected because there are a few non-creepy uses for it...and it looks creepy to everyone, none of whom know his motives.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 2:30pm

    The scandal problem has already been solved. It's called "the right to be forgotten." As soon as this inalienable human right is everywhere respected (and, of course, everywhere applied to corporations) nobody will have to ever again worry about how public knowledge of the facts would affect their reputation.

     

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    Kevin, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 3:57pm

    Disturbingly Useless

    Over and over again these Tech companies flog the advertising wagon about how much they are doing to fight the NSA , when the simple fact is , they can do nothing.
    Cooperation is required. It is the Law in the USA. They go to jail if they do not cooperate. All the encryption and legal manouvering in the world doesn't change the fact that attempts to change those laws were ruthlessly gutted and made useless.

    One can imagine the NSA rubbing their hands together. "Yes yes, keep talking about how much things have change. Get them to trust you AGAIN !!! And then give us all the data AGAIN !!!! those people are such idiots can't they read a newspaper ? Nothing has changed . We're still taking it all and no one is stopping us. "

     

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    Giles Byles, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 7:38pm

    Capture it all, save it forever

    I agree with Kevin above.  The TLA stenchiness has gone on for so long that it's "embedded."  Everything is compromised.  Hardware, firmware, software.  How would you undo it if you wanted to?  It's like you find out that what you've been eating is all roachy.  The loathsome critters have been crawling all over your food, all night, every night.

    What needs to happen is, all of it needs to stop.  But NSA is not the slightest bit interested in stopping.  Not gonna do it.  A year's gone by & nothing changed.  The PATRIOT Act is still law.  Another year will go by & we'll still be right here.  & the year after that, etc. etc.

    Won't somebody "think of the children" & the dystopia they're about to inherit?  Sorry, kids.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 10th, 2014 @ 8:56am

      Re: Capture it all, save it forever

      On the bright side, at least if we wanted to we could stomp out porn...
      The children will benefit far more from no porn than from freedom, after all

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jun 11th, 2014 @ 8:36am

      Re: Capture it all, save it forever

      "A year's gone by & nothing changed."

      Two points: first, a LOT has changed, but it's all been in terms of public opinion. Second, a year is hardly any time at all. I would have been stunned if anything was actually fixed in such a short time. Reform of these sorts of things takes years -- but that doesn't mean it's not coming.

      The first step is that the public has to demand change. So, all in all, I'm actually quite encouraged with how things are going so far.

       

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    Whatever, Jun 9th, 2014 @ 7:49pm

    lip service?

    I can't help but think that much of the "progress" being touted here is nothing more than lip service. They appear to be taking just enough steps to placate the masses, and that's about it.

    It's a nice distraction away from the basic fact that the large internet companies did an incredibly poor job of protecting customer information and in securing their networks in the past. The levels they are striving to reach (at least in press release form) are things that should have been a given up front.

    I think they are all very lucky not to be facing massive lawsuits and legal action for privacy violations. Blaming it on the NSA and the "gubbermint" is a nice way to get people to look away from the core issues.

     

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      nasch (profile), Jun 10th, 2014 @ 8:18am

      Re: lip service?

      They appear to be taking just enough steps to placate the masses, and that's about it.

      Let's hope the masses keep pushing them to do better.

       

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