The recent New York Times article, “Internet Giants Erect Barriers to Spy Agencies,” reflects the current political rhetoric over privacy, but it also misrepresents the reality of the situation.
The companies cited– Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and the like– are taking steps to make NSA interception of their data more difficult. But this is a basically political move. They are merely reducing levels of voluntary cooperation with the government. The simple truth is that with the cybersecurity technology currently available and deployed these companies are not capable of protecting themselves, and ultimately their customers, from cyber attacks.
In the great US-Russia-China Cyber Triangle each government has enjoyed the quasi-voluntary cooperation of its cyber-based large companies. The other two governments were simply attacking the companies at will, and with full success. Of course, the companies’ cooperation was helpful to their host government, but it should be clearly understood that this was merely a matter of convenience and efficiency, and had little bearing on the actual result.
So the only change this new US cyber company fad is that it will take a little more effort by the US Government to get the same results. The other two sides of the great triangle aren’t affected (nor, for that matter, are several other governments).
This might suggest that the only way to protect people’s privacy is a legislative approach that would prohibit the Government from spying on its own citizens. But then we have to clearly understand that while we can prohibit NSA collecting Americans’ personal and private data, we cannot prevent Russia or China from doing the same. This is a symmetrical situation: Russia and China, and any other country, cannot prohibit the US collecting whatever they want. The situation would be awkward indeed if only American Government cannot collect unrestricted information on Americans. Spying is the oldest profession, and it’s going to prosper for the foreseeable future.
There’s a simple conclusion to be drawn: until and unless we develop new and truly effective cybersecurity technologies all the discussions about our privacy are just exercises in political rhetoric.