Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Zuckerberg on NSA: "The government blew it"

While Facebook has played its part in enabling sprawling surveillance state, CEO slams government over transparency

Natasha Lennard
September 12, 2013 9:41PM (UTC)

Before Edward Snowden's leaks let loose a flood of revelations about the vast and intrusive surveillance operations of the NSA, we didn't hear much in the way of complaints from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

But now the scandal has erupted and public outcry rages, Zuckerberg is joining the chorus of tech giants in slamming the NSA and absolving themselves of their part in complying with and upholding the near-totalized surveillance state.


"I think the government blew it," said Zuckerberg, speaking at TechCrunch's annual conference in San Francisco. “I think it's my job and our job to protect everyone who uses Facebook and all the information that they share with us. It’s our government’s job to protect all of us, and also to protect our freedoms and protect the economy, and companies. I think that they did a bad job at balancing those things.”

Along with Google and Yahoo, Facebook has stressed that it works hard to protect its users from undue government spycraft. On Monday both Facebook and Yahoo filed lawsuits against the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in order to get permission to reveal information about government data requests.

Yahoo has some ground to stand on in framing itself as a defender of user privacy against government surveillance. As HuffPo pointed out Thursday, "In a secret 2008 decision, Yahoo lost a lawsuit against the government that argued handing over customers' data violated their constitutional rights." And Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer pointed out the double-edged sword held up to tech companies with regards to compliance with government surveillance orders: "Releasing classified information is treason and you are incarcerated," Mayer said.


Yet the efforts of these tech giants to frame themselves as the good guys in this narrative should be taken with a handful of salt. Their key request with these lawsuits is to be able to make public information on government data requests. The ideology at play seems to suggest that government-Silicon Valley surveillance nexuses are fine, so long as the public gets to know about it. I've more than once condemned as dangerous the Silicon Valley ethics of transparency, with which "tech giant[s] ha[ve] been able to champion transparency and user privacy while at the same time marching in goose step with government and other industry players effectively establishing a totalized surveillance state."

The efforts ring hollow and a little too late from figures like Zuckerberg, in light of revelations of their significant enablers of the government's hoarding complex when it comes to communications data in the years since 9/11.

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.

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