Google Privacy: The White House Ask

Photograph by Christoph Dernbach/DPA/Zuma Press

Skateboards at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Google privacy.

See what you get.

Among the results: Twitter’s Privacy Policy.

It describes in detail what users of the micro-blogging site forfeit by way of privacy when they tweet. All the popular social sites have these policies.

And for all the commercial use that the Googles, Twitters and Facebooks of the e-world make of their customers’ communications, most of them have spoken out against the intrusiveness of the government’s surveillance of emails and other postings at their online services. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has called it “outrageous.”

It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true,” Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal in early November.  ”The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK.”

Schmidt and other tech execs are at the White House today attempting to find out what the administration plans to do about the unchecked surveillance that has been exposed in a year of revelations sparked by the rogue  ex-national security contractor and now federal fugitive, Edward Snowden. The guest list at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is as big as “the cloud:” Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook Netflix, Yahoo!, Comcast and others.

Spying, as social critic Frank Rich has noted, is only spying when people don’t want to be watched. Around the time that  Snowden revealed the extent of National Security Agency telephone and Internet surveillance with the release of documents he stole from work,  only 36 percent of the country felt that government snooping had “gone too far” in its snooping, according to a Pew–Washington Post survey. It found that 62 percent deemed fighting terrorism a higher priority than protecting privacy.  In addition, a National Journal survey conducted days before the NSA stories broke found that 85 percent of Americans assumed  their “communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use,” was “available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access” without their consent.

Yet the people in charge of the communications on which growing numbers of Americans, particularly the young, have come to rely see a serious problem here.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush, this week rejected the Obama administration’s argument that Americans don’t have a right to privacy for records showing telephone numbers called and the duration of the connection.

“The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the  government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” Leon wrote, referring to a Supreme Court ruling on which the administration has relied in justifying the surveillance program.

He has stayed his injunction against the government while the case is under appeal.

Schmidt and company are waging their own appeal at the White House today.

When federal judges taking a close reading of the Constitution and Facebook, Google and the rest taking a measure of their own business interests in this debate see eye to eye, it’s safe to assume that the closer look that the extent of the nation’s security surveillance is getting will lead to some changing of the rules of the Internet highway.

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