Privacy Files: Undermining Confidence

Photo by Lydia Chávez

Photo by Lydia Chávez

 

Last week, Cisco CEO John Chambers, arch Republican and old friend of the National Security State, sent a letter to President Obama complaining about U.S. government interference in his business. Standard stuff? Not quite.

It seems the National Security Agency was intercepting Cisco products when being shipped overseas to implant security flaws or otherwise outfit them for spying purposes. Mr. Chambers believes such practices do not inspire consumer confidence in Cisco products.

Recent quarterly earnings reports from global markets support his case.

Instead of responding to the problems raised by Mr. Chambers, the Obama Administration indicted five Chinese military officers for hacking into U.S. corporate networks.

Only a senior reporter of the New York Times could explain why N.S.A.’s corporate and economic espionage was good, while China’s was bad. Predictably, China was not impressed, issuing its version of a takedown of U.S. spying.

While Obama’s lawsuit evoked Mad Magazine, Congress went one step further, torpedoing its own legislation.

Prodded by public pressure to end the phone dragnet, representatives from both parties drafted a bill to end bulk collection of phone records, and limit the time collected records may be kept. After two weeks of “intense negotiation,” the full House passed a bill which subverts the original intent, providing numerous loopholes for the N.S.A. to exploit.

Who says Congress can’t get anything done?

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, led by dear (minority) leader Pelosi, voted for the bill despite opposition from a coalition of tech firms including Apple, Facebook and Google (not Cisco). Apparently a number of their representatives in Congress have more to fear from the “intelligence” agencies than their donors.

Apologists for the bill say it’s better than nothing. A growing chorus of civil liberties organizations and the above-cited tech coalition don’t agree. They recognize, as Marcy Wheeler points out here, here, and elsewhere, that the bill passed in the House expands, rather than limits, mass surveillance in several ways.

As the Orwellian “U.S. Freedom Act” slouches toward the Senate, Stanford’s Jennifer Granick writes:

it’s worth asking why legislative surveillance reform has so far failed, despite huge support in Congress and in the public for ending bulk collection. What does this say about our political system, and about the influence of intelligence agency lobbying despite public sentiment in favor of more restraint?

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