Privacy group outlines cost of surveillance

Spying at the National Security Agency and elsewhere is hurting U.S. businesses, American foreign policy and security across the Internet, according to new analysis from a group of civil liberties advocates.

The 60-page report released by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute on Tuesday comes on the same day that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is introducing his new version of a bill to reform the contested spying outfit, and could provide a boost for critics of the agency. 

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“Our findings indicate that the NSA’s actions have already begun to, and will continue to, cause significant damage to the interests of the United States and the global Internet community,” the organization wrote in its report.

At the top of the list are tech companies, who have suffered losses estimated to be in the billions of dollars due to people’s loss of trust in their services. They could be further hurt by foreign governments who begin to distrust the current structure of the Internet and call for new laws that data be held in their countries or assert more control online.

Additionally, disclosures that the U.S. had snooped on foreign leaders in Brazil, Germany and other countries have damaged the countries’ international alliances, and the friction could be felt for years.

“The U.S. government is fighting an uphill battle at the moment to regain credibility in international Internet governance debates and to defend its moral high ground as a critic of authoritarian regimes that limit freedom of expression and violate human rights online,” the organization said in its report. “Moreover, the fallout from the NSA’s surveillance activities has spilled over into other areas of U.S. foreign policy and currently threatens bilateral relations with a number of key allies.”  

Finally, NSA operations to find vulnerability online and ensure agents have “backdoors” to peer into people’s communications “have undermined trust in the security of the Internet itself,” the report declared.

The report comes as Leahy is set to introduce his new, more aggressive version of the USA Freedom Act, which tech companies and organizations including the Open Technology Institute have rallied behind.

Kevin Bankston, the organization’s policy director, said in a statement that the new bill “would go a long way toward stemming the costs of the NSA’s spying programs and restoring trust in the American Internet industry, by prohibiting bulk records collection and providing substantially more transparency around the NSA’s surveillance programs.”