stop the snoops

The US govern­ment has been watch­ing you. Tech­nol­ogy’s big play­ers need to grow a pair and help make our data pri­vate again

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

Amer­ica’s big­gest tech com­pa­nies have a unique op­por­tu­nity to be the agents of change in 2014. Not in a “thin­ner, lighter and more pow­er­ful” way; not even in a “more pix­els-per-inch” way. No, I’m talk­ing about the kind of seis­mic shift that will make the world bet­ter and safer for ev­ery­day tech users. I’m talk­ing about spear­head­ing the re­turn of pri­vacy. You guys re­mem­ber pri­vacy, right?

You see, our favourite com­pa­nies, from Ap­ple to Google, Mi­crosoft to Face­book, have fur­nished us with ex­cit­ing tech we love to use, but they’ve also let us down. Those firms we trusted, per­haps naively, with our most in­ti­mate data haven’t looked af­ter it. As a re­sult, the US Govern­ment’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) was able to launch the largest civil­ian sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion ever un­der­taken. You may have heard about it.

We may never know whether these com­pa­nies just left the back door ajar for govern­ment snoops, or were com­plicit in the scan­dal, rolling over for their bel­lies to be tick­led. In­deed, their in­ten­tions were prob­a­bly good. Lend­ing a hand in the fight against ter­ror­ism can be com­mended, while tak­ing a stand against the White House would be tricky in­deed for busi­ness. Re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances, though, they owe us. Here’s what needs to hap­pen…

For starters, the so­cial net­works, email providers and mes­sag­ing ser­vices must shore up de­fences. En­crypt data five times over and put up an elec­tric fence for all we care – just get the job done. They must also stop hid­ing be­hind so-called le­gal obli­ga­tions and push back hard. If the NSA can legally re­quest any­thing, then Ap­ple and Google’s in­sis­tence they aren’t “il­le­gally shar­ing” our data means noth­ing.

The fight back, of sorts, has started. Late last year, an al­liance of these leading tech com­pa­nies wrote an open let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama call­ing for an over­haul of the con­tro­ver­sial sur­veil­lance pro­grams. It was a start, but smelled of a PR stunt aimed at shift­ing the fo­cus of blame and court­ing pub­lic favour. It won’t be enough and, quite frankly, Face­book crit­i­cis­ing the govern­ment for vi­o­lat­ing pri­vacy is like Pepsi knock­ing Coca-Cola for caus­ing tooth de­cay.

In­stead, these mas­sive, bil­lion-dol­lar com­pa­nies must do what mas­sive bil­lion­dol­lar com­pa­nies do in Amer­ica: use their power, money and in­flu­ence to af­fect po­lit­i­cal change. If it works for the NRA gun nuts, just think what Tim Cook and Eric Sch­midt could achieve if they stepped up.

Tech gi­ants have done their part to get us into this mess, but they may be the only ones who can ac­tu­ally get us out of it. If we’re ever to fully trust them again, how­ever, the sea change must be­gin now.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.