You may have heard that on Friday President Obama did a sudden about-face and is now saying his administration is interested in formulating better controls for our nation's vast surveillance programs. I think the reasons for his dramatic change of heart are twofold: 1) The Snowden revelations are causing his administration to lose a lot of political capital and 2) He has just figured out that there is a decidedly negative financial aspect to this whole situation.
It is always fun to watch a politician, who is dead set against something, turn around to say they've really been for it all along! For weeks, Obama has resisted any suggestions of changes in the laws and regulations regarding our various intelligence agencies. He has told the world over and over again that he was confident in the [supposed] safeguards already in place.
But a majority of Americans and a growing number of senators and representatives in Congress haven't bought into his rhetoric. Since Snowden's first revelations, the president's approval numbers have headed south. Realizing that this issue could well tarnish his presidential legacy, Obama has come to the realization that he needs to get out ahead of the controversy. So, the time-honored strategy is to promote a slew of meaningless changes that, in truth, won't change much of anything!
You see, Obama doesn't really want more oversight; what he wants is the perception that he's working to provide more oversight. In politics, perception is far more important than truth!
The other aspect -- a potential economic hit -- is one that the ever intrepid Glenn Greenwald has pointed out.
The growing (and accurate) perception that most US-based companies are not to be trusted with the privacy of electronic communications poses a real threat to those companies' financial interests. A report issued this week by the Technology and Innovation Foundation estimated that the US cloud computing industry, by itself, could lose between $21 billion to $35 billion due to reporting about the industry's ties to the NSA. It also notes that other nations' officials have been issuing the same kind of warnings to their citizens about US-based companies as the one issued by Lavabit yesterday:
And after the recent PRISM leaks, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared publicly, 'whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don't go through American servers.' Similarly, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a German Justice Minister, called for a boycott of US companies."The US-based internet industry knows that the recent transparency brought to the NSA is a threat to their business interests. This week, several leading Silicon Valley and telecom executives met with President Obama to discuss their "surveillance partnership". But the meeting was - naturally - held in total secrecy. Why shouldn't the agreements and collaborations between these companies and the NSA for access to customer communications not be open and public?
Obviously, the Obama administration, telecom giants, and the internet industry are not going to be moved by appeals to transparency, privacy and basic accountability. But perhaps they'll consider the damage being done to the industry's global reputation and business interests by constructing a ubiquitous spying system with the NSA and doing it all in secret.
The very thought that some of his corporate benefactors may lose even a smidgen of market share -- profits -- must have the Obama administration scrambling to staunch the wound! The evisceration of the constitutional rights of the American (and world) populace is of no great concern, but we can't have Wall Street giants take a financial hit because of this ordeal!