Government surveillance is on track to destroy the Internet and the U.S. economy, according to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Gathered at a high school gymnasium in Palo Alto, California on Wednesday, Schmidt and other heads of some of the Internet’s biggest companies prophesied doom if something wasn’t done soon to curb dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). The cost to the tech industry and the economy, the business leaders said, was “severe and getting worse.”
Joining Schmidt at the meeting was Ron Wyden, a senior Democratic senator whose fierce defense of Fourth Amendment rights has earned him the support of top privacy advocates. In his opening remarks, Wyden recalled issuing a warning several years ago about the potential backlash once the public learned about the NSA’s “gather it all” surveillance agenda.
Last month, Sen. Wyden announced the Strengthening Privacy, Oversight, and Transparency (SPOT) Act, which would elevate the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a group charged with advising the White House on the civil liberties implications of government surveillance, to counterterrorism watchdog status.
One of the chief concerns addressed by the group was the escalating requests for data localization from foreign countries—a requirement that tech companies build data centers within each nation’s borders. The cost of constructing and maintaining such facilities in every country that wants to use their services, Schmidt and top Microsoft attorney Brad Smith warned, might be enough to destroy their respective companies.
Earlier this year, the Brazilian government announced that they were planning to abandon Microsoft Outlook for an email service that would use local data servers.
A report published last year by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITTF) estimated that the realization of NSA surveillance would likely cost the U.S. cloud computing industry between $22 and $35 billion over the next three years alone. “Rival countries have noted this opportunity and will try to exploit it,” the ITTF warned. “One tactic they used before the PRISM disclosures was to stoke fear and uncertainty about the USA Patriot Act to argue that European businesses should store data locally to protect domestic data from the U.S. government.”
The question now is if lawmakers who frequently campaign on creating jobs and strengthening the U.S. economy will step up and support Wyden’s efforts to rein in the NSA before it’s too late.
Photo via Guillaume Paumier (CC BY 2.0)/Flickr | Remix by Jason Reed