Facebook official’s move to NSA should raise eyebrows
Facebook, among other tech companies, has distanced itself from the government, claiming it only cooperates when it is legally required to. But, “current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the NSA and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency,” report the New York Times‘s James Risen and Nick Wingfield.
There is nothing wrong with a private sector employee moving to the public sector, per se. After all, people should be free to choose their occupation. However, there has been a growing trend in the last decade of government cozying up with private business, to the detriment of us all. The left yelled quite a bit (and still does) about Halliburton’s no-bid government contracts, while in more recent years there has been scrutiny of the perceived uncomfortable closeness between the Obama administration and upper management at Goldman Sachs.
But here, we have the man whose job is to keep confidential data about Facebook users and staff working for the agency whose duty is to spy and collect electronic intelligence, and whose targets now include American citizens. It is a complete reversal of his job, and because he was leading Facebook’s security, there is now a wide open hole there for the government to access citizens’ private data.
Considering how much information Americans put on their Facebook profiles—sometimes including home address, phone, religious and political views, sexual orientation, who they’ve dated, and any ill-thought post, Internet fight, or drunken picture—this gives the federal government a very intimate, close look into our lives, one most Americans would recoil from. We don’t expect, nor desire, the government to be peering into our windows or our pocketbooks. That’s why we have the Fourth Amendment, which doesn’t just protect our property, but also requires that we be secure in our “papers,” or correspondence, which in these days is mostly email, Twitter, Facebook, and other digital media.
Companies respond to incentives. When customers are angry about a service or a good, they stop buying the company’s product, and this is reflected accordingly in the company’s profit reports. Unfortunately, however, consumers are just not aware of these practices. If they were, they would be howling a bit more loudly, and companies would be taking steps to protect their customers’ data more carefully. This is a time for consumer awareness, and for consumers to challenge service providers that do not meet consumers’ expectations for privacy. They should let their worries be known to Facebook management, and Facebook should take steps to ensure that their chief security officer’s transfer will not be opening up any holes.
Americans have rightly denounced the cronyist coziness between the government and the financial sector in the wake of the financial crisis and the lingering recession. The bailouts have awoken the ire of the masses, both on the left and the right, for taking their valuable dollars and shoveling them towards failing companies. But Americans should be just as, if not more, alarmed at the practice of the people working to protect their personal data now working for the government’s spy agency. There needs to be a space between private business and public service in all areas, or else our rights will be trampled in the private sphere just as much as in the public one. The only way that space will exist is if consumers give companies the right incentives, and that requires consumers to monitor their providers and make their voices heard.