Tech giants push surveillance reform: What wasn't said

If Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other tech leaders want the NSA's surveillance practices reformed they need to start talking about the potential financial hit a lot more.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Technology giants such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook have pushed for the U.S. government to reform its reform its surveillance policies around five broad principles.

These principles---limiting government authority to collect user information, better oversight, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information and creating a framework that minimizes government conflict---sound good on the surface. The problem is that these principles aren't likely to get too far.

Also: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook call for NSA muzzle

Oddly enough, the argument that might have worked best for the tech companies was this: Your surveillance practices are going to cost us sales, dominance and perhaps jobs. Legislators aren't going to get frameworks, respect and transparency of data requests, but will understand economics and money.

Now it's too early to say that the NSA flap and revelations that the U.S. government can and has snoop on anything online it wants has hurt tech sales, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots.

On Cisco's recent first quarter earnings conference call, CEO John Chambers said there has been an impact in China due to U.S. Internet surveillance. Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco, said:

This issue has caused increasingly customers to pause and another issue for them to evaluate, in all of those complexities that you've already discussed. So it's not having material impact but it's certainly causing people to stop and then rethink decisions and that is I think reflected in our results.

Indeed, trust matters for cloud computing, an area where the U.S. leads. The NSA flap has hurt trust and therefore potential sales.

Microsoft's chief counsel Brad Smith said:

smith tweet


Smith dances around the issue, but if people don't use technology they don't trust there's an economic impact.

Rest assured, the broad principles outlined by tech giants make for good news and analysis fodder. Behind closed doors with legislators and lobbyists, economics will be mentioned a lot.

nsa principles


Editorial standards