Yahoo story reinforces need for online user bill of rights
The Reuters report that Yahoo scanned hundreds of millions of customers’ emails for information requested by U.S. intelligence officials screams out — once again — the need for an online users’ bill of rights.
We will say it for the umpteenth time: The United States, home of Silicon Valley, remains the only major developed nation without fundamental online user protections, and that is appalling. Congress has to establish clear privacy protection of personal data, both from unwarranted government intrusion and from tech companies’ widespread sharing of personal data for profit.
Two weeks ago, Yahoo announced that hackers had stolen the credentials of 500 million users. Now Reuters says the company complied with a federal government request to allow a mass scanning of email for a specific string to uncover possible wrongdoing.
This government demand would mark a major, troubling departure. Usually requests have a particular target and are based on findings of probable cause.
Consumer trust in tech products is essential to the continued success of the industry that drives the U.S. economy — and mistrust grows with each massive hack and government fishing expedition. Polling today shows American trust in U.S. technology is strong, but it can quickly erode with more revelations like the Yahoo reports.
President Obama tried twice, in 2012 and 2015, to introduce a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, but each time tech companies argued that it would stifle innovation. That’s the politically acceptable buzzword. They also fear their profits will be affected if they can’t monetize customers’ private data at will.
Things could be worse for the industry. Imagine the Supreme Court settling online privacy issues on a case-bycase basis based on laws written in the Dark Ages — and the average age of the justices is 75. Most say they don’t even use email, let alone smartphones or Snapchat.
Federal law limits how much tech companies can reveal about Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency requests. Hence, Yahoo’s lame initial response to the Reuters report: “Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States.”
Later Yahoo added, “The (Reuters) article is misleading. We narrowly interpret every government request for user data to minimize disclosure. The mail scanning described in the article does not exist in our systems.”
Reuters is standing by its story.
The Yahoo report and the Apple-vs.-FBI fight last fall build the case that further delays in consumer protection will hurt the industry as well as consumers. If user trust in Silicon Valley crumbles, customers will look for products and security systems from other countries.
Business concerns aside, here’s a radical thought. Basic privacy protection of personal information should be a fundamental right of Americans. Can’t we just get it done? — San Jose Mercury News,
Digital First Media
The Yahoo report and the Apple vs.-FBI fight last fall build the case that further delays in consumer protection will hurt the industry as well as consumers. If user trust in Silicon Valley crumbles, customers will look for products and security systems from other countries.