Warrantless surveillance a big disadvantage for the US tech sector

Warrantless surveillance a big disadvantage for the US tech sector
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It’s no longer a question of whether our economy will be hurt by the warrantless surveillance act — it already has — but how much damage it will do.
As of now, much of the criticism surrounding the NSA’s renewal of its mass surveillance act — the same alarming program that Edward Snowden brought to light back in 2013 — was that it actively spied on U.S. citizens. People were outraged — and appropriately so — that our rights as Americans had been blatantly ignored, and that the NSA could intercept phone calls and emails without a warrant.
Sadly, what we’ve forgotten in all of this is that there is a direct effect these laws have had on our economy.
Foreign companies are becoming increasingly concerned about working with U.S. businesses where their user’s data may be subject to U.S. surveillance. The European Parliament’s civil liberty committee, for example, was presented with a proposal stating that every American website place a disclaimer to EU citizens alerting them that their conversations could be monitored. And Google says it could face laws that would effectively prevent it from doing business in major markets like Brazil; the country is planning to create its own email service and implement regulations that attempt to block Google due to concerns that it can’t adequately protect its customers from government surveillance.
And therein lies the problem. With $18 trillion, the United States is the world’s largest economy, with China arriving a distant second at $11 trillion. The state of California alone would be a hypothetical sixth. You can find iPhones with the Facebook app and a Google browser from Ecuador to Kosovo. America’s global reach is an incredible strength and a potentially destructive weakness if we lose the trust of the global community.
My own company has 550 million users located in every corner of the globe. We, like many U.S tech companies, are successful because of global reach. With the NSA openly disclosing that it can and will snoop on foreigners — and with evidence from the likes of Snowden alleging that these powers are routinely abused beyond the law’s intended purpose — it’s almost certain that, undeterred, this government interference will cause a drop-off in the growth of the U.S. tech sector.
How big of a hit will we take? Time will tell, but recent studies have stated numbers as high as $180 billion. Cisco, for its part, has already reported a 12 percent dip in sales based on the NSA’s revelations back in November, and it predicts another 10 percent drop when its 2018 Q1 results are in. AT&T, too, has been hurt due to the NSA’s surveillance practices.
This is before we even consider the significance of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR’s fines apply to anyone with the data of any EU country, and can amount to at minimum 2 percent of global annual turnover or €10 million — whichever is greatest. With an NSA that is cavalier enough to send coded messages through Twitter, and that tried (and failed) to acquire classified material using cash in a briefcase, one has to wonder if our own warrantless surveillance could lead to devastating private leaks that could brutally puncture companies. Depending on how you interpret Article 83 of the GDPR, article B and C (intentional or negligent character of the infringement and any action taken by the controller or processor to mitigate the damage suffered by data subjects) could be used against any company enabling surveillance.
And working with the government in any way could easily be seen as willful non-compliance. It depends entirely on how the EU might react. Historically, some see the NSA’s actions as a violation of European law without a breach.
The issue here is not that the United States is implementing laws to help protect its citizens — it’s that the continued secrecy surrounding its tactics, and the concerns of an abuse of power, leads to distrust among our foreign partners.
When there’s distrust, there’s usually a fallout. And when that occurs, the ones who suffer most are, ironically, the very citizens this law purports to protect.
David Gorodyansky is the CEO and cofounder of AnchorFree, a security and privacy technology company based in California.