THE BLOG
12/12/2013 05:15 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

We Need To Restore Internet User Trust After Surveillance

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee examined ways to reform government surveillance programs that have made headlines in recent months. During my testimony, I asked for limits to better protect Internet users here and around the world. My concern is our surveillance policy is myopic -- focusing on short-range national security goals while undermining our national security in the long-term by jeopardizing trust in the Internet, which impacts our longer-term economic and diplomatic goals.

Trust has been at the core of the U.S. approach to Internet policy for more than a decade and should not be squandered. While many intuitively understand why this must be preserved for human rights reasons, there are also vital economic concerns that rely on a free, dynamic Internet.

Sixteen years ago the White House charted the course for a vibrant Internet economy in the perceptive Magaziner Report, the first U.S. government policy statement addressing the needs of Internet commerce. That policy statement correctly identified user trust as the foundation of Internet commerce. It noted:

"If Internet users do not have confidence that their communications and data are safe from unauthorized access or modification, they will be unlikely to use the Internet on a routine basis for commerce."

That may sound rudimentary, but we should not take for granted decades of progress in creating security and fostering user trust -- and we should not discount how easily that foundation can be damaged.

The broad NSA surveillance regime, and the way it has been received internationally has harmed U.S. companies, U.S. competitiveness, and the Internet itself. The U.S. government must be proactive in addressing these concerns.

Status quo acquiesce tolerating expanding surveillance is no longer an option, and eight leading tech companies asked Congress and the Obama administration to support specific rules to rein in surveillance in an open letter this past week.

If we do not act now to limit surveillance and increase oversight for all Internet users, we put at risk our economic security and undercut our diplomatic ability to influence the future of the Internet.

We are heartened that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has introduced the USA Freedom Act to limit bulk collection, to increase transparency, to allow companies to report more statistical information about the number of national security demands they receive, and to reform the secret court overseeing these national security requests by including a special advocate.

My tech trade association supports this legislation, which would improve the checks and balances on the surveillance system and boost trust online. Decreasing trust in the Internet impacts not just individual U.S. companies, but U.S. competitiveness in the digital economy.

Economists predict the Internet economy among G-20 nations will reach $4.2 trillion by 2016.
Estimates show 21 percent of economic growth, in mature economies, over the past 5 years is attributable to the Internet.

And it's not just Internet companies that reap the economic benefits of good Internet policy. Traditional industries are the beneficiary of 75 percent of the economic value derived from the Internet. Thus, we should not underestimate the Internet's role in global economic development, which in turn has its own security benefits for the United States and the rest of the world.

It would be dangerously myopic to focus narrowly on some security concerns without consideration of the other vital national interests including the widespread economic damage from excessive Internet surveillance. This has led us precariously down a more-is-better path of crafting surveillance policy that had few checks and balances on power and little cost/benefit analysis of the goals of the strategy versus the results.

We need to once again place trust at the center of U.S. Internet policy both for our own interests -- and for the sake of Internet users in Internet restricting countries, which would too readily use our policy failings as an excuse to seize greater control of the Internet.

Last years WCIT conference showed us there is a deep international division over whether to subordinate the open Internet to the political machinations of world governments, including repressive regimes. The U.S. needs to be a beacon for freedom and openness in this battle.

Given these risks, we propose:
• enhanced transparency and procedural reform;
• clearer protection for Americans; and
• baseline protections for international users

First - transparency and procedural reform.
All governments should share with citizens meaningful information about their surveillance laws, their legal interpretations and the judicial procedures that govern the exercise of this powerful authority. Of course, the U.S. cannot demand this from others until it leads by example. Furthermore, companies should be permitted to disclose, publicly to their users, the precise volume of requests from governments. Businesses should not only be permitted to release transparency reports, but be encouraged to do so. We categorically reject the notion that open government will cause undue damage to security. Transparency in criminal surveillance has been the norm for years and does not appear to have materially affected law enforcement. In order to present a robust check on the government, the FISC must also evolve to include a committed and well-resourced advocate to provide an alternate viewpoint, particularly in situations involving novel questions of law.

Second, protection for Americans.
Federal laws addressing the circumstances in which the government may collect Americans' data for national security purposes are badly in need of reform. Bulk collection of metadata is one area where that is most obvious, as it reveals a great deal of sensitive private information. Furthermore, important 1st Amendment rights of association are implicated by the government assembling its own version of your social network for their own analysis. The USA FREEDOM Act addresses this problem by explicitly prohibiting this type of bulk collection both on the Internet and on telephone networks -- and that is one reason we support it.

Third, protections for foreigners.
Despite the global interconnected nature of the Internet, U.S. national security policy continues to presume U.S. citizens deserve protection from unwanted surveillance, while others do not. If foreigners lack baseline privacy assurances, foreign competitors will supplant U.S. leadership in Internet innovation and digital commerce, thus undermining strategic economic and other security interests. This is especially true going forward, as foreign markets are increasingly important.

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