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Status: In a Relationship with NSA

Amid the fallout from the recent NSA revelations, the biggest tech firms have tried to present themselves as only reluctantly complying with the Feds. But as the New York Times reports, the truth is that Washington and Silicon Valley have had an increasingly close relationship for years now.

“NSA badges are often seen on the lapels of officials at other technology and information security conferences. ‘They’re very open about their interest in recruiting from the hacker community,’ said Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, US intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley startups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like [Max] Kelly [formerly of Facebook].

The relationship of course makes sense, as both parties have much to gain: plush contracts for the Valley and access to information for the spooks. It’s yet another facet of a trend we’ve noted before. Though Valley types still like to speak in broad idealistic generalities about how they’re transforming the world without mention of borders and countries, in reality they seem to have rediscovered the importance of the state. And if current political trends continue, those programmers that take high-paid national security jobs when they cycle out of the Valley are highly likely to donate their new cash to Democrats. If so, we might see the revival of a strong national defense and national greatness lobby in the Democratic Party.

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  • Kavanna

    I doubt that. The recent revelation is one of the worst public relations disasters that the tech world has ever suffered. Like the large banks and other financial institutions — especially those with close relations with the Democratic party — they will increasingly come under attack for cronyistic relationships with Big Government.

    • Corlyss

      I wish I were as confident as you that this has indeed been a public relations disaster for the tech cos. Have large numbers of subscribers bolted from their warm embrace? Not so far as I’ve heard. If you’ve heard differently, please post faith promoting rumors here.

      I think most of the users have been so busy exposing themselves figuratively and literally for years via their favorite forms of self-involved narcissistic connectedness that the whole affair has blown right past them and they remain oblivious to the implications. Since the social media demo is largely the untapped well of liberal voters the Dems cultivate, the members couldn’t care less about whether the cozy relationship between progressive-run government and tech firms and data mining to manipulate the electorate presents a danger to our republican form of government. As I noted before, the only kind of data mining that concerns me is reported on here:

      • Andrew Allison

        To a hammer (big data), everything looks like a nail. But, there’s a very significant difference between voluntarily, if unwisely, surrendering information to commercial enterprises and Big Brother vacuuming it up without our consent. This, I think, is the nub of the current disquiet.

      • Kavanna

        The real impact will be on non-US users of these services. As someone who works in technology and knows many others in the same line of work, I can assure you that it is major and growing topic and that it is already having an impact on users of US IT services outside the US. Rest assured the issue will come up at trade talks as well.

        As a result, US companies in this position are starting to push back and ask for more clarity about how the information they handle is being surveilled. It’s their non-US customers they’re mainly worried about.

        For US citizens and residents, of course, there remains real concerns. But they are protected by very clear rules. These can be violated, but there are ways to stop the violations.

        Foreigners have no such clear rules about their information on US IT services being surveilled. Perhaps some clarification and clear legal framework are in order here.

        Otherwise, the growth outside the US of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, et al. is imperiled. Don’t think such companies are not in a quiet panic about it.

        • Corlyss

          I acknowledge your claim to superior insight by virtue of your work. We’ll just have to wait and see. Before I believe it, I want to see mass exodus of users which simply hasn’t materialized even though the essential elements of the program were “exposed” by the ever-faithful Dem toadies NYT and WaPo during Bush’s administration. I haven’t heard anything that wasn’t substantially vetted years ago and not only has there not been mass exodus, the tech companies users grow by leaps and bounds.

      • Kavanna

        It will unfold over months and years, not hours or days. And the immediate worry for the big tech companies is their foreign customers, not their US clients.

  • BrianFrankie

    Google’s new slogan: Don’t be? evil!

  • Andrew Allison

    ” And if current political trends continue, those programmers that take high-paid national security jobs when they cycle out of the Valley are highly likely to donate their new cash to Democrats. If so, we might see the revival of a strong national defense and national greatness lobby in the Democratic Party.” is completely unsubstantiated by the report. As a result of the PR disaster, tech companies have begun to push back against Big Brother.

  • Jim__L

    National Greatness and a penchant for collecting information on American citizens without their knowledge or consent, going hand-in-hand.

    Fantastic! What could go wrong?

  • Jim__L

    All joking aside, there are some interesting connections between this subject and other subjects near-and-dear to VM.

    Who’s working for these Silicon Valley companies? It may (but shouldn’t) surprise people to learn that in many cases, the programming staff at data mining companies are 60% or more foreign nationals. A large percentage of those are from India (unsurprising) but a large percentage of the remainder are (perhaps surprisingly) *Russians*.

    To connect this to another VM topic: what do you think would happen to these percentages if the sort of Immigration Reform VM advocates (lots more H1B skilled workers!) went through? We might see 90% of the programming staff at these companies being foreign nationals. More than that, it’s a population of foreign nationals that good old Vladimir Putin could easily slip some of his own people into.

    That causes major headaches for the folks who try to determine whether people can be trusted with information critical to US security. They’re having enough trouble with that these days, with folks like Snowden and Assange acting on an “information wants to be free” mentality very common in the Valley.

    If the GOP and traditional defense companies don’t pick up on these facts and start hammering away in Congress, I’d be very, very surprised.

    Trusting our National Greatness to foreigners is probably not going to fly.

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