Google, NSLs, and the future of privacy

In a court ruling on May 20, in San Francisco, CA, Google was ordered to comply with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) requests for private user information through the use of National Security Letters, a counter-terrorism measure implemented after the passing of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Judge Susan Illston, who ultimately decided against Google’s contention that the FBI’s probing was unconstitutional, ruled against the letters in a case filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in March--citing the letters as unconstitutional.

The new ruling comes at the heels of Google executives, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, releasing a manifesto titled The New Digital Age. Schmidt & Cohen touch on the importance technology has, and will have, on future developments in trading and politics, suggesting that the deterioration of privacy will help “open” democratic governments understand their constituents while arguing that “companies responsible for storing this data have a responsibility to ensure its security, and that will not change.”

They also reflect their views on the “importance of a guiding hand in the new digital age.” Cohen and Schmidt go on to say:

We believe the vast majority of the world will be net beneficiaries of connectivity, experiencing greater efficiency and opportunities and an improved quality of life. But despite these almost universal benefits, the connected experience will not be uniform. A digital caste system will endure well into the future, and people’s experience will be greatly determined by where they fall in this structure. The tiny minority at the top will be largely insulated from the less enjoyable consequences of technology by their wealth, access or location. The world’s middleclass will drive much of the change, as they’ll be the inventors, the leaders in diaspora communities and the owners of small and medium sized enterprises. These are the first two billion who are already connected.

The next five billion to join the club will experience far more change . . . . [I]t is this population that will drive the revolutions and challenge the police states, and they’ll also be the people tracked by their government . . . .

This vision of the future shouldn’t strike anyone by surprise, as it’s nothing more than a reflection of our current reality. As Julian Assange puts it, Cohen & Schmidt pick up the “white geeks burden” and resort to subterfuge, hiding the motives of corporate expansion by feigning interest in people’s rights to privacy.

But as demonstrated by Google's complicity in PRISM, Smith & Cohen may simply be corporate bigwigs out for nothing more than their own profit, mouthing platitudes about privacy while serving Big Brother.

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