Damage to trust in our government is most dangerous risk of the spying fiasco

I think the most serious damage from the feds spying on everything is that the effort could rapidly destroy our trust as citizens in our government. Collateral damage is that the big tech companies could wipe out our trust in them.

Bruce Schneier has been discussing this often, especially in a recent column at Schneier on Security – Restoring Trust in Government and the Internet

Look at these technically true comments that are actually very clever deceptions:

Skype — owned by Microsoft – [denied it] was changing its protocols to make it possible for the government to eavesdrop on users

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assured the committee that his agency didn’t collect data on hundreds of millions of Americans.

Google and Facebook insist that the NSA has no “direct access” to their servers.

Apple says it’s never heard of PRISM.

Companies are publishing reports purporting to show how few requests for customer-data access they’ve received

Why are those carefully crafted deceptions? Here’s my summary of Mr. Schneier’s explanations:

  • Microsoft didn’t need to make changes to Skype, because the Feds already had unrestricted access.
  • Mr. Clapper created a new definition of the word “collect.”
  • NSA didn’t need ‘direct access’ to everything on Google and Facebook because they were already scooping up everything said on those platforms without ‘direct access.’
  • Of course Apple has never heard of PRISM – that is the code-word name of the program used inside the government.
  • One single request could cover anywhere from a handful up to tens of millions of people. It might only take 10 or 50 ‘single requests’ to cover the majority of phones in the U.S.

My fear is that we are getting to the point where we need to parse every comment on our surveillance society made by government officials and private businesses in order to discover what was really meant.

That damage to trust in government is a severe threat to a democracy. Damage to some S&P 500 tech companies could get bad enough to drop them to mid-cap.  It will take a long time to recover.

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