The National Security Agency’s broad surveillance programs aren’t just bad for Americans’ privacy, they’re also bad for business. That’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — a guy who knows a thing or two about running an Internet firm — said on Wednesday at an event hosted by TechCrunch:
While speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt event in San Francisco, Zuckerberg emphasized that it is his job “and our job to protect everyone who uses Facebook and all the information they share with us.” He said the government response put U.S. tech firms doing business overseas in a tough spot.
“It’s our government’s job to protect all of us and also to protect our freedoms and protect our economy … and companies,” he added. “And I think they did a bad job of balancing those things here. … So frankly, I think the government blew it. They blew it on communicating the balance of what they were going for here with this.”
Zuckerberg appeared to be noting the government’s initial steps when the NSA story first broke after revelations by leaker Edward Snowden.
“The morning after this started breaking, a bunch of people asked them what they thought,” he said. “And the government’s comment was, ‘Oh don’t worry, basically we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Oh, wonderful, that’s really helpful to companies who are trying to serve people around the world and really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies. Thanks for going out there and being clear about what you are doing. I think that was really bad.”
While the focus on Syria has distracted the American public from the NSA’s snooping, sentiment against broad surveillance remains high. The Associated Press released a poll Sept. 11 showing that nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose the NSA’s collection of their phone and Internet metadata. The poll also found that a majority believes the federal government is doing a poor job of protecting their privacy.
That poll comes on the heels of yet another story from the Washington Post showing that the NSA violated court-approved rules to protect Americans’ privacy. The Post notes that the violations occurred because the agency didn’t have an understanding of how the surveillance system worked. Moreover, the story further undermines claims that the NSA self-reports privacy violations.
“[T]he documents released by the office over the past month paint a troubling picture of an agency that has sought and won far-reaching surveillance powers to run complex domestic data collection without anyone having full technical understanding of the efforts,” explained the Post, “and that has repeatedly misrepresented the programs’ scope to its court overseer.”
The criticism coming from Zuckerberg is somewhat ironic, given complaints about Facebook’s inability to protect users’ privacy. But the core point remains.
The picture that has been painted of the NSA’s program is ominous for Internet firms, showing that privacy invasive proposals like CISPA and SOPA aren’t the only threat to their livelihood. It’s another unintended consequence of public policy that could cost a multi-billion industry a lot of money.