Eight major U.S. web companies made a joint call on Monday for tighter controls on how governments collect personal data, intensifying the furor over online surveillance.
In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress, the companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, said recent revelations showed the balance had tipped too far in favor of the state in many countries and away from the individual.
In June,former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden exposed top secret government surveillance programs that tap into communications on cables linking technology companies’ various data centers overseas.
After Snowden’s disclosure, many of the big Internet companies warned that U.S. businesses may lose revenue abroad as wary customers switched to local alternatives.
This latest gesture comes as some of the very signatories to the letter are criticized over their data collection practices, which have led to increasing concerns over privacy. Google, for example, was fined in September for not complying with the French government’s request for specific information on the data it collects from users. The search giant has also faced challenges to its Street View mapping project, acknowledging in March that it had violated people’s privacy. Facebook, with its Graph search feature, has beencriticized for the way it mines user data. Apple too has been scrutinized.
Photo: PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI/Reuters
“It appears possible that some people may have committed offences. We need to establish whether they have or haven’t. That involves scoping a huge amount of material,” Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism, Cressida Dick, said Tuesday before the House of Commons.
The Guardian may yet face terrorism charges as police continue to investigate the newspaper’s secret surveillance coverage based on leaked documents. Cressida Dick, Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism, said before the House of Commons Tuesday that some people may have committed offenses and establishing that would involve “scoping a huge amount of material.”
Who has done more than anyone else to increase public understanding of what the National Security Agency does? A top-10 list would have to include James Bamford, its first and most prolific journalistic chronicler, and Glenn Greenwald, a primary recipient of classified documents leaked months ago by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Over the weekend, I engaged in a back-and-forth with a former NSA employee who harshly criticized both (and me, too) with words that illuminate how some insiders view the press and the national-security state.
His name is John R. Schindler. In his own words, he is a “professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, where he’s been since 2005, and where he teaches courses on security, strategy, intelligence, terrorism, and occasionally military history.” He previously spent “nearly a decade with the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer,” and he is “a senior fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University and is chairman of the Partnership for Peace Consortium's Combating Terrorism Working Group, a unique body which brings together scholars and practitioners from more than two dozen countries across Eurasia to tackle problems of terrorism, extremism, and political violence.” In addition, hisbloghas some smart commentary on it.
He is certainly a surveillance-state expert. In comparison, I started writing regularly about surveillance in June when the Snowden story broke. If we’re going by the dictionary definition, Schindler is correct that I am a neophyte, “a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief.” As Schindler and I interacted on Twitter, a predictable divide opened up between his followers, who are generally supportive of the surveillance state, and mine, who are more skeptical of it. Highlighting parts of our exchange* will permit me to better explain what it is that many of us “outsiders” find so frustrating about how “insiders” treat this subject.
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Depending on execution, parody can be one of the best or worst ways to get a message across. Today, we’ve seen examples of both lambasting Amazon Prime Air, the company’s new plan to use drones to deliver packages to your door. Twitter reacted with the usual mix of humor, disdain, and nitpicking, while one of Amazon’s regional rivals has created a parody video.
So things are looking up for the guy in the Ecuadoran Embassy.
SAN FRANCISCO — Darnell Sullivan, a senior at Sacred Heart High School, paused in the campus quad during lunch to explain why he no longer checks his Facebook page as religiously as he used to.
“My mom’s on Facebook,” he said with a tinge of disdain. “I try not to use it. It’s for old people.”
Once a redoubt for teens, Facebook is now struggling to keep younger users interested as other online services increasingly beckon. Many adolescents now say they spend more time with Instagram and Snapchat, two photo and video sharing apps, than updating friends on Facebook about nights out on the town and their favorite hip-hop songs.
The shift marks a major reversal from the social networking landscape of a couple of years ago. Even the strongest companies can face stiff challenges as adolescent fads ebb and flow.
Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images