Photo: President Barack Obama talks with Michael Froman, then NSA deputy for international and economic affairs, during a working dinner at the G8 Summit, June 25, 2010. (White House/Flickr)
News about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program and its privileged access to internal user data at 9 U.S. Internet companies has unleashed a torrent of justified anger and hand-wringing. But the worries do not go far enough. Almost everybody is still looking at this through a narrow domestic lens. Our values and goals may be more challenged than you think.
The implications are not just about what happens to the privacy of Americans and to the future of American political due process. There are potentially vast negative global consequences. Giving the U.S. government special rights to data from U.S. companies sets a terrible precedent, and is hugely short-sighted.
The Internet is intrinsically a global business and social landscape. Yet up until now American companies have overwhelmingly dominated it. They have done so with astonishing innovation and technical achievement. Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo, and YouTube — all companies said to be participating in PRISM — are the world’s most important digital platforms for communications and information. The economic and political benefits both to the U.S. and to the world of this domination are obvious. Not only are they by far the world’s most valuable set of businesses for investors. They have created extraordinary value for their users by fostering an openness and landscape for free expression and dialogue that is unprecedented.
How much of this astonishing success are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of domestic security?