James Fallows has a calm, accurate assessment of the damage done by the NSA surveillance program.
In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.
- American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
- American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.
Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.
Whenever companies like Google are mentioned, the argument I hear is that Google gets all your personal data anyway, so why are we concerned that they turn it over to the government? Put simply, Google can’t arrest you.