Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) convened a roundtable on “The Impact of Mass Surveillance on the Digital Economy,” at Palo Alto High School — the same gym where the Senator held a school record of leading scorer in basketball.
Wyden, now better known as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was flanked by executives and lawyers from some of U.S. tech’s biggest companies: Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Dropbox.
The hour-long session shifted from talk about the digital economy to the risks posed by government surveillance programs to human-to-human communications.
Wyden cited a study from Forrester Research that found that surveillance concerns could cost U.S. companies a quarter of their foreign revenue by 2016.
According to Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith:
“The fundamental issue is pretty straightforward. It’s all about trust. And it is personal to people. Just as people would not put their money in a bank they don’t trust, they will be reluctant to store their personal information in a data center or on a phone that they don’t trust. These issues have undermined people’s trust in American technology, and that’s a shame.”
“If you’re a consumer or a company, you own your email, your text messages, your photos and all the content that you create,” he said. “Even when you put your content in our data centers or on devices that we make, you still own it and you are entitled to the legal protection under our Constitution and our laws. We will not rebuild trust until our government recognizes that fundamental principle.”
Congress has been considering reforms to U.S. digital communication laws, particularly the USA FREEDOM Act. But those efforts have been slow going, reports the Washington Post. With only a bare majority of Americans opposed to U.S. government anti-terrorism surveillance, the event was likely a preview of how the issue will be framed when Congress returns to session: as a personal affront to American citizens, to U.S.-based technology entrepreneurs and to the global community.
“The simplest outcome is we’re going to end up breaking the Internet,” said Google’s Schmidt. Foreign governments, he said, are “eventually going to say, we want our own Internet in our country because we want it to work our way, and we don’t want the NSA and these other people in it.”
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said the spying scandal will continue to impact Google and other tech companies.
The impact is “severe and is getting worse,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to wind up breaking the Internet.”