Snowden did the tech industry a big favor

Snowden did the tech industry a big favor

Summary: Big companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google don't want to be government pawns, betraying customer privacy. They can fight back now that it's all in the open.


I am not an Edward Snowden fan and I don't even assume that his motives are good, but clearly some good has come from his leaks. One major one is that tech companies are able to fight back against government pressure to give up their customers' private data.

Special Feature

IT Security in the Snowden Era

IT Security in the Snowden Era

The Edward Snowden revelations have rocked governments, global businesses, and the technology world. When we look back a decade from now, we expect this to be the biggest story of 2013. Here is our perspective on the still-unfolding implications along with IT security and risk management best practices.

Microsoft made yet another example of this recently when it was revealed that they are resisting US government efforts to force the company to disclose user data stored abroad. In fact, since the Snowden disclosures, the big tech companies have tried hard to make clear that whatever data they disclose to the government they do so under legal order. They have also obtained, in the end as a negotiated settlement, the ability to disclose aggregate data about the number of government requests for data they receive.

As time has gone on, they have gotten bolder about challenging the government. The case of Microsoft protecting data in their Irish datacenter from US orders is one of several cases they have been able to bring in open court, rather than in the secret FISA court. This is both good law and good public relations.

To my mind, the first example of this happening was when, after stories came out about it in 2006, the telephone networks began resisting the NSA requests for bulk metadata and insisted that the government seek warrants. This is how the system of FISA court warrants for that data began.

Since then, we've heard claims that the companies are in bed with the NSA, such as the early claim that the PRISM program allowed the government "direct access" to the companies' servers. These have turned out to be untrue, merely a perverted form of wishful thinking by some who, as a rule, think the worst of everything done by government and corporations.

I've heard some dismiss the telecom companies' actions as mere ass-covering, and it is that, but it's more than that. They were forcing the government to work within the law, whether you like that law or not. None of these companies like betraying their customers' trust. There's no upside in it for them and plenty of risk. Some people seem to think they should have gone further, but such people are not usually the type to advocate that corporations break the law.

I would argue that Microsoft and Google and AT&T and Verizon and Yahoo! and all the rest of them have been bigger victims of the whole data collection scandal than just about anyone, certainly including the people who were surveilled. They have incurred significant legal risk and risk to their reputations, as well as considerable legal and technical expense in order to deal with the whole affair.

Like I said, I'm no Snowden fan. But if I were a lawyer or officer for one of these big tech companies that had been forced to comply in secret with complex data requests of dubious legal authority, I'd be very grateful that he brought it out in the open.

Topics: Security, Government US

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Data security..

    Good idea about data security...
    Thanks to all......
  • Snowden's effects

    Snowden outed the government's activities. The FISA secrecy orders then become moot if people know they exist and who is affected. Now that one knows for a fact that MS/Google/Apple/etc are operating under gag orders at least part of the time one can adjust. Also, this showed the government's paranoia and stupidity.
    • Are you a prisoner at ZDNet?

      Larry, except for this theme of criticizing Snowden you appear smart.
  • Snowden did the Tech Industry a Big Favor !

    I've been actively working in the Tech Industry since 1981. Back when the biggest thing to come was the IBM PC with DOS 1.0. I am also a Veteran of the USAF and worked with a security clearance.

    Indeed, Ed Snowden did every single American a huge favor by exposing the "wrong doing" behind the scenes of the NSA/CIA and other agencies. Doing something like that took courage and balls. Most people would have been too scared to do something like that because they don't have what it takes to do the right thing when its called for.

    Yes, Snowden is a HERO. Here's why:

    1. Had Snowden followed protocols and gone to either his boss or to someone in the US Congress with what he knew, the information would have never seen the light of day. They would have "hushed" it up and swept it under a rug and nothing would have changed. Most of you Snowden haters would not understand nor think of that before bloviating your dissent about what he did.

    2. He has caused every TECH company in America and around the world to rethink their products and the products security features. Not only does this affect individuals, but businesses as well.

    3. Blowing the whistle on employee's of our government, who believed that they knew what was best for us when they really didn't, was a mind blowing experience for those it hit hard. Power Corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely !

    4. Foreign Governments now know the extent that our government has been listening in on their conversations and texts and emails and faxes beyond that of Project Echelon.

    I am glad that Snowden did what he did. It won't completely stop Obama from taking Center Stage and enveloping the world in his diabolical schemes.
    • Would it have been hushed up?

      You might or might not recall that Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) read the Pentagon Papers in their entirety on the floor of the Senate and the Nixon Administration couldn't touch him because only the Senate can discipline one if its own members for what they do there (per Article I of the Constitution).

      There's a lot that members of Congress can do, official secrecy or no.
      John L. Ries
      • The Pentagon Papers were not NSA classified secret nor was FICA's

        Secret court back then what it is now. I must agree with Labrynth's opinion that the "Snowden Leaks" would NEVER have been made public by any member of Congress due to "National Security" concerns.
        • The Constitutional provision hasn't changed

          Neither the administration nor the courts have any control over what members of Congress do within the Capitol. They are responsible only to their colleagues and their constituents. The worst thing the Administration can do to them is revoke a clearance, and even if that is done there is still nothing to stop a committee chairman with appropriate jurisdiction from convening a closed door hearing and asking very embarrassing questions.

          FISC, of course, is in the business of issuing warrants, which according to the legal doctrine of the time weren't even necessary to engage in wiretapping (that was part of FISA from the start, but was never part of statute law before that). To that extent there is now (at least marginally) more legal protection against surveillance, not less.
          John L. Ries
      • You make a dubious assumption

        Are ANY members of the current congress patriotic enough to do anything about it even if they were told? Maybe Snowden shouldn't have done what he did, but maybe he should live in a country were politicians aren't entirely ruled by money (which is the natural result of electing lawyers and corporate stooges).
        • One out of 535?

          I actually like those odds and as Andrew Jackson is supposed to have said long ago "one man with courage is a majority".
          John L. Ries
    • Similar life story as Labrynth

      And I applaud Snowden as a patriot forced by a criminal Administration to flee his own country.
    • Snowden

      Labrynth you nearly had me until that last sentence. But I suppose that was your purpose. Make reasoned arguments and then destroy your credibility so that people dismiss the entire argument. Clever [or not?]
      • Agree

        The anti-Obama comment hurts your arguments, but overall I agree. I don't think it's a Republican/Democrat thing. As you say, power corrupts and once given the power or charge to be able to do something, particular if they're allowed to do it in secret, any administration will abuse that power. The ability to cover your actions in secrecy destroys checks and balances and over time abuses will occur. It's scary to me.
    • If actions can't pass third party scrutiny

      then they are likely immoral or illegal. Obviously the government is scrambling. It is sad that now someone like Snowden must seek safety from countries like Bolivia or the Soviet Union. Though he broke the law, did the government ignore more laws and constitutional rights? Did they just investigate foreign nationals to protect the US? Certainly terrorists don't heed US laws so they shouldn't be afforded the protections of US laws either. None of us have the proper insight. We can only speculate.
    • I agree.

      Everything you said is spot on. Snowden is a hero. He pulled back the curtain on illegal activities during a period when the biggest threat to United States citizens is their own power-crazed and corrupt government. If he had gone through proper channels, he would have met with an unfortunate "accident."

      Regarding President Obama's schemes: He has none. Like the puppet Presidents before him, President Obama does whatever the Bilderberg group decides. If you want somebody to blame, look much higher in the food chain. He's a pawn in a much larger game.
      • blame

        No, blame the voters.
    • Yes....

      I am a Vet also and an engineer in several disciplines and my work with the DOD began in 1975 till 1993 after the massive lay off due to cancellation of all the DOD defense projects by Bush Sr. and after Russia collapsed. My clearance was Secret.

      After my work with the DOD I worked for the private sector also with the biggest companies in the US with the Internet since conception.

      I also agree with everything you mention and even more as I am a Libertarian to the core and I condemn our government for being so crooked and abusive violating our constitution and the rights of all citizens of the world and corporations.

      To me Snowden is more than a hero with balls of steel and will be remember in the annals of history by those like us who love liberty and our "Bill of Rights".
  • Glad that the illegal activities of NSA is exposed.

    Snowden - hero or villian , history will judge.
    • RE: Glad that the illegal activities of NSA is exposed.

  • Snowden Might have done the rest of us a favor but...

    I don't think these companies honestly gave a crap about US government spying. They just don't like getting caught. If they really gave a crap, they would have encrypted everything end to end a long time ago. You're kidding yourselves if you think these companies are happy about any of this. It's a PR nightmare for them and it will cost them a bunch of money to put enough security in place to make people feel comfortable with their products again.
  • Mere ass covering...

    Ya, well unfortunately for us, companies are not humans. Companies are businesses, and the bottom line is they exist as "profit makers". As such they don't involve human emotion, only those that run the companies can bring that in.

    Then its always the humans running the company torn between simply being humanist good Samaritans prepared to give profit making a back seat to being a good corporate neighbor, and likely being fired for it, or throwing all humanist interests to the wind and going for the easiest buck available. What we should expect is at least a balance that falls within the law.

    Covering their ass or not, looks like they are trying to at least do what we would hope for.