Tuesday, April 15, 2014

silicon valley could force NSA reform tomorrow...,


rsn | With Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras triumphantly returning to the US to accept the Polk Award with Barton Gellman and Ewan MacAskill yesterday, maybe it's time we revisit one of their first and most important stories: how much are internet companies like Facebook and Google helping the National Security Agency, and why aren't they doing more to stop it?

The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft to Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House.

But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed. The USA Freedom Act, the only major new bill promising real reform, has been stalled in the Judiciary Committee. The House Intelligence bill may be worse than the status quo. Politico reported on Thursday that companies like Facebook and are now "holding fire" on the hill when it comes to pushing for legislative reform.

The keepers of the everyday internet seem to care more about PR than helping their users. The truth is, if the major tech companies really wanted to force meanginful surveillance reform, they could do so tomorrow. Just follow the example of OKCupid from last week.

Mozilla, the maker of the popular Firefox browser, was under fire for hiring Brendan Eich as CEO because of his $1,000 donation in support of Prop 8 six years ago, and OKCupid decided to make a political statement of its own by splashing a message criticizing Mozilla before would-be daters could get to OKCupid's front page. The site even encouraged users to switch to another browser. The move made the already smoldering situation explode. Two days later, Mozilla's CEO was out of a job, and OKCupid got partial credit for the reversal.

The leading internet companies could easily force Congress' hand by pulling an OKCupid: at the top of your News Feed all next week, in place of Monday's Google doodle, a mobile push alert, an email newsletter: CALL YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS. Tell them to SUPPORT THE USA FREEDOM ACT and tell the NSA to stop breaking common encryption.