My story today is about privacy, security, confidentiality and how the North American National Security Agency, NSA, are watching and listening to our electronic devices. There have been many stories over the last few eighteen months after former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, revealed the depth of the NSA’s snooping tactics. Edward leaked documents that showed the US government uses court orders to compel companies to reveal data about users. It also showed the NSA hack fiber-optic cabling, routers and servers. Since this, many companies have started offering tighter device security and encryption, which has strained relationships between the NSA and the collection of device manufacturers, software developers and telecommunication companies. Now, the coalition of Internet and technology, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), is supporting Senate bill, S. 2685, which would end one of the NSA’s most controversial domestic spy programs: how it collects and stores the phone records of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing. In addition to curbing data collection, the legislation would allow companies to publicly reveal the number and types of orders they receive from the government to hand over user data.
The CEA, which contains Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Twitter, are trying to put this through before the Republican majority take control of the chamber at the end of the year: many Republicans many support government surveillance programs. The clock is ticking! If the bill passes, the NSA would be required to get court orders to obtain records (numbers dialed, call durations) and would narrow the surveillance to exclude collecting geographic data such as a city, ZIP or area code. The Consumer Electronics Association wrote a letter to all senators saying that because of the spying allegations, members “have already lost contracts with foreign governments worth millions of dollars.” Forrester Research puts the cost in lost business as up to $180 billion but it is very hard to put a figure onto the potential loss. You see, just as some consumers have shied away from buying Chinese handsets on the fear of Chinese spying, so consumers around the world fear using American technologies for spying concerns. Microsoft and Verizon have lost contracts in Brazil and Germany, Cisco Systems have reported declining orders from the developing parts of the world.
This is a potentially important bill that’s being rushed through right now. Republican politicians appear to be trying to stall progress rather than helping the process. And whilst the current Obama administration are supporting the bill, it’s not clear if sufficient Senators will vote. Things are far from clear.