President Obama shared earlier this week an attempt at empathizing with those concerned about the sharing by Internet and telecommunications companies of private communications data with the United States government. Mr. Obama tried to convey that we should expect to give up a little liberty in order to ensure national security. While I can appreciate his position as commander-in-chief and his duty to protect Americans from attack, I don’t think he or the national security community fully grasp the push back some Americans are maintaining against a policy calling for the collection of metadata. All Mr. Obama has to do is look at the market in order to determine how serious the issue of privacy is.
Today’s e-commerce market is driven in part by the demand for data that legal hacker companies such as Facebook and Google crave. Why do I call them legal hackers? they are legal because information provided to them is volunteered by consumers of their services. They don’t have to break into your computer or server files to get the info. They just ask for it.
These companies make their money via advertisements an in order to look good to advertisers they have to be able to extract as much information from consumers as possible. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the business model and are pushing back against the idea of so much of their information being handed over to social networks and other websites. Some of this push is being led by federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
There should be no surprise on the part of the Obama Administration about how consumers react, but there should also be greater consideration for how consumers and advocacy groups are reacting. It is more than a mere inconvenience. It amounts, in market terms, to intellectual property being encroached upon by a government that fails to recognize the value of the information to consumers; a government that does not seek permission to take it nor compensate its citizens when it takes it.
I would have preferred to see the federal government invest in the human intelligence necessary for gathering intelligence against our enemies rather than using technology in a demonstrably invasive way.