US needs to restore trust following NSA revelations, tech groups say

Congress and the Obama administration can enact surveillance reforms to slow backlash against the US IT industry, advocates say

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

The U.S government can take action to slow the calls in other countries to abandon U.S. tech vendors following revelations about widespread National Security Agency surveillance, some tech representatives said Friday.

Decisions by other governments to move their residents' data away from the U.S. are hurting tech vendors, but Congress can take steps to "rebuild the trust" in the U.S. as a responsible Internet leader, said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.

Still, other governments will continue to try to use the NSA revelations by former agency contractor Edward Snowden to their advantage, said panelists at a Congressional Internet Caucus discussion on the effect of NSA surveillance on U.S. businesses.

"What we have here is an inflection point -- a moment for other countries, other companies, to close the gap and to use this as an opportunity to really catch up to the IT industry in the U.S.," added Chris Hopfensperger, policy director with software trade group BSA.

BSA is hearing "anecdotal" evidence of foreign governments turning away U.S. tech vendors because of NSA surveillance, Hopfensperger said. He noted news reports last month of the German government dropping a contract with Verizon Communications because of spying.

Hopfensperger called on U.S. policymakers to actively address worldwide concerns about NSA surveillance, instead of waiting to see what the impact on the U.S. tech industry will be. "There's a very large focus on what is the dollar impact on this," he said. "The problem with looking at the numbers of what has happened is, by time you have a real dollar amount, that business is lost, and it's not coming back to the U.S."

While some of the debate in other countries over NSA surveillance programs appears to be driven by privacy concerns, many countries seem to also have a "mercantilist" agenda to promote their own IT industries at the expense of U.S. companies, said Stewart Baker, a lawyer and former general counsel at the NSA.

Baker also blamed "Snowdenista" journalists for distorting the surveillance activities of the NSA while downplaying the U.S. government's privacy and civil liberties oversight of the agency.

Baker questioned whether any of the surveillance reforms being debated in Congress will stop other countries from pushing for their residents' data to be stored inside their borders. The main reform proposed, which would scale back an NSA program collecting U.S. telephone records, would have "zero effect" on calls by other countries to stop using U.S. tech vendors, he said.

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