Companies Versus Government Surveillance, by Garth Ball
In case you were blissfully unaware, the debate over government surveillance rages on. More recently, tech companies have joined the discussion of how much information the government should be allowed to keep about its citizens. For example, on December 9th, 2013, Google posted this message on its Google+ page:
“Today, we joined seven leading tech companies—AOL, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo—in calling on governments around the world to reform their surveillance laws. In an open letter, we are asking the President and Congress to take the lead and ensure that American surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight: http://goo.gl/1wYGII”
The debate gained new urgency this summer after whistleblower Edward Snowden brought the NSA’s questionable information-gathering to public attention. No matter what side of the argument you’re on, however, this open letter from Big Tech to Barack Obama can’t be ignored. While it may appear to some that the tech companies are simply voicing the opinion of their customers and the American people, it can’t be dismissed as a purely benevolent act. After all, these big names are corporations; their business model depends on the free flow of information. Not only this, but many of these companies (Google being a prime example) keep extensive records of data on consumers themselves. If you’ve ever wondered how some websites seem to be able to show ads that are related to what you’ve been searching, that’s why.
Much of the U.S. population’s trust has been shaken since Snowden’s NSA leaks. And many people agree with what these tech companies are saying: that the federal government does need to take charge of reforming its surveillance laws. What remains to have been as thoroughly addressed by public debate until now, however, is how Big Tech fits into the discussion. Are they representing their consumers? Do the companies themselves need to put restrictions on how data is gathered? Should the companies’ ulterior motives and money be of concern to U.S. citizens or the government? In order to fully address the issues of government surveillance and freedom of speech on the internet, we as citizens need to become fully informed. Ultimately, we are the ones who need to stand up for what we believe in to make a change, convincing the federal government or private enterprise to do the will of the people (rather than the other way around).