Extra Credit - NSA Surveillance Analysis

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J.D. Hamann
Comm 3263W - Fall 2013
Extra Credit Analysis

In a statement released December 5, 2013, Microsoft announced it would be joining the battle against the government and its surveillance procedures. Executive vice president Brad Smith stated pointedly "Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures -- and in our view, legal processes and protections -- in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data" (Gross). This firmly placed Microsoft in the ranks of advocates for privacy. With recent allegations that the National Security Administration (NSA) has been stealing private user data from companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, it is becoming increasingly clear that the battle to protect the privacy of United States citizens will be fought by corporations and will be waged on the technological front. This is happening for three main reasons: inaction by the court system, the ability of corporations to fight against NSA spying, and benefits to corporations in fighting against these invasions of privacy.
First, the judicial system is failing in its constitutional role to provide a check to the power wielded by the legislature and the executive branch. It is alarming enough that many congressmen and women may have voted to renew the Patriot Act without reviewing what it actually constituted (Mead). It should then be considered downright shocking that the courts are not sending this invasion of civil liberties to the Supreme Court to issue a ruling. Walter Russell Mead says "Let's hope both the courts and Congress think these issues through." Unfortunately, hoping won't do much to make the federal government give the Patriot Act some serious reconsideration.
One thing that can, however, have some tangible effects in the fight for privacy is the collective action of technology-based data companies, like Microsoft and Yahoo. Microsoft's announcement for increased data encryption came on the heels of Yahoo's promise to do the same thing. With the NSA allegedly tapping in secretly to data being streamed across the country, these companies can take action to prevent this data from ever being read. If the data is encoded during transit, the NSA can only steal garbled and useless information. The battle for privacy will be fought by corporations because they possess the proper weapons to fight. By transitioning to a policy of encrypting all data sent, Microsoft and Yahoo are making moves against the NSA.
Corporations are motivated to take sides against the NSA for one main reason: money. "Yahoo has been struggling to boost its revenue for years, making it even more important for the company to reassure its 800 million users worldwide about the sanctity of their personal information" (Liedtke). With allegations that these corporations had been voluntarily providing the NSA with information, they feel the need to make strong statements, both vocally and in taking action. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said "I want to reiterate what we have said in the past: Yahoo has never given access to our data centres to the NSA or to any other government agency" (Liedtke). The perception that users' private data would be made available to the NSA would likely drive down the amount of traffic to the websites. This would adversely affect ad sales and overall revenue for the company. For this reason, branding the company as a privacy-advocate is key to its financial success.
With government revisitation of the legality of the NSA's surveillance measures sluggish, if not downright dormant, the representative for the privacy of the American public in the battle against NSA spying will be the corporations in possession of the desired information. The courts' movements to investigate are practically invisible. Individual citizens don't have the power to protect themselves. Only corporations like Microsoft and Yahoo, who have both the financial and technological capabilities to physically protect the information as well as the proper motivation to do so, are in the position to oppose the NSA. For the foreseeable future this is where the war will be waged.


Gross, Doug. "Microsoft Fights Back against NSA 'snooping'"CNN. Cable News Network, 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.

Liedtke, Michael. "Yahoo Thumbs Nose at NSA, Widens Encryption of Users' Communications. "Www.vancouversun.com. Vancouver Sun, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.

Mead, Walter Russell. "Judicial Oversight Over The NSA. "Via Meadia. The American Interest, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013

1 Comment

Please provide the links to your articles.

This is certainly an area for debate: Should private companies control government overreach? What are the implications for democracy?

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This page contains a single entry by JD published on December 6, 2013 7:03 PM.

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