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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Did Silicon Valley Help The NSA Spy?

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Georgetown University professor Abraham Newman argues that business practices at the big technology companies have helped the National Security Agency gather consumers’ personal data in the U.S. and abroad.

Technology companies have reacted sharply to revelations of N.S.A. spying on their customers’ data. Google said, “We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”

The company says it has ramped up encryption programs to protect data from both hackers and from spies.

“These tech companies have spent the last 20 years pushing for self-regulation and for weak privacy rules.”

Yahoo announced similar measures, with company president Marissa Mayer saying, “As you know, there have been a number of reports over the last six months about the U.S. government secretly accessing user data without the knowledge of tech companies, including Yahoo. I want to reiterate what we have said the past: Yahoo has never given access to our data centers to the N.S.A. or any other government agency. Ever.”

But Newman argues that there is a basic problem with these statements — they run counter to the business model of these companies.

“These tech companies have spent the last 20 years pushing for self-regulation and for weak privacy rules here in the U.S. and globally, and this facilitates the misuse of personal data, both by spying agencies like the N.S.A., and by the companies themselves,” Newman tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “Google, Facebook — they are direct marketing companies and they exchange information with other list companies. And there are very few rules to regulate that.”

Newman says the companies face a danger to their bottom line unless they can restore customers’ confidence about data privacy, and he argues that “customers, for their part, have to wake up and realize that this is like the environmental movement of the 1970s — that privacy, their personal information, is something they have to protect and mobilize around.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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