Google’s NSA outrage: Correct and hypocritical

CEO Eric Schmidt, who in 2009 said if you have nothing to hide you shouldn't fear surveillance, condemns NSA hack

Topics: NSA, eric schmidt, Google, Transparency, Privacy, Edward Snowden, data centers, Yahoo, Surveillance, FISC, National Security Agency, , ,

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is more than justified in his criticism this week of NSA surveillance. An explosive report in the Washington Post last week revealed that the spy agency, as well as demanding data on millions of online communications from tech firms through FISA court-approved processes, has also reportedly been hacking the links between Google and Yahoo’s data centers around the world, to gain secret backdoor access to many millions of users’ emails and data.

“It’s really outrageous that the NSA was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true,” Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal, noting. “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.”

Mr. Schmidt, I couldn’t agree with you more. However, please don’t take this as a pat on the back. Google’s position since the slew of NSA revelations began being published has been at best a P.R. scramble, at worst an exercise in gross hypocrisy. It was, after all, Schmidt who in 2009 said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

You Might Also Like

Such an attitude — what I’ve described before as a dangerous Silicon Valley transparency ethic, smacking of privilege — contributed significantly to the crystallization of the surveillance state as status quo. Google’s recent public efforts to push for greater transparency around NSA programs, and Schmidt’s outrage over secret NSA data center hacking, should not exempt the firm from censure over their crucial role in building the U.S.’s sprawling surveillance nexus.

Google is happy with the vast surveillance dragnets that it knowingly contributes to in response to FISC orders. But when it comes to mass surveillance it didn’t know about or have some control over, the tech giant is “outraged.”

No doubt, the allegations that the NSA relied on a presidential order to gather vast swaths of data outside of the (already weak) domestic restrictions on surveillance would be significant if proven true. The spy agency has contested the reports, which were based on leaked NSA documents obtained via Edward Snowden. But Schmidt’s response is correct: If the NSA truly is covertly hacking into data centers, we have proof-positive that the agency is doing literally everything possible to feed its unbounded hoarding complex.

Schmidt’s outrage is justified and hypocritical. Recall Google’s open letter in June to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking to be able to publish more national security data requests following early NSA revelations. “Google has nothing to hide,” the missive noted.

So, Mr. Schmidt, what is the locus of your latest outrage? Is it the fact of unbounded surveillance? That can’t be it — Google was knowingly taking part in that sort of operation already. As I wrote in June, “Google is being genuine with its desire for greater transparency — but in so doing it performs the great violence of not recognizing the complicated nexus of power that gets to determine what or who is evil or good, and so what or who can be transparent.” It seems at least parsimonious, then, to read Schmidt’s outrage as less to do with abrogated privacy protections, and more to do with the shape of surveillance outside of Silicon Valley’s control.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...