My how Edward Snowden has changed things.
Back in 2009, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told CNBC that "if you are doing something you don't want anybody to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Schmidt, during which he said
The NSA allegedly collected the phone records of 320 million people in order to identify roughly 300 people who might be a risk. It’s just bad public policy…and perhaps illegal.
You have to take a strong position in favor of privacy. Privacy is really the right to be left alone. Do you really want the government tracking all of those information, especially if you’re just a domestic citizen who is just going about your life?
There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don’t have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them.
Companies like Google and Yahoo make a lot of money by collecting vast troves of information about us. Perhaps that's why, back in 2009, Eric Schmidt didn't seem all too worried about the Patriot Act or secretive government surveillance powers. But now that the public has a better idea of the scope of the government's surveillance — including the NSA's theft of user data from Google and Yahoo
— the billionaire tech chairman has changed his tune.
Perhaps he is worried that people will stop using Google now that we know, as musician MIA put it in a prophetic song
back in 2010, that the "Google [is] connected to the government." That's bad business news for Google and the other tech giants. So they are hitting back, both behind the scenes and publicly, demanding not just transparency but also law reform.
In a public letter last week, a number of major tech companies wrote to congress
expressing frustration and concern about the extent to which the government is violating its users' trust. The group stopped just short of endorsing the USA Freedom Act
, which would go a long way towards reining in the worst of the surveillance state's excesses.
If Google is really upset about the breadth and depth of NSA spying, it should marshal its formidable power to ensure that this legislation and other reform efforts are signed into law.