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How to Be Friends With the NSA Again

Author: Carla Anne Robbins, Adjunct Senior Fellow
July 3, 2014
BusinessWeek

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Relations between Silicon Valley and Washington have never been easy. But the technology sector's fury about hacking by the National Security Agency has company executives talking about the U.S. government as its new adversary. That could make the Internet an even more vulnerable place.

Technology companies and service providers vow they will not voluntarily share information with the government and are racing to encrypt more data. Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have also derailed discussions about how business and government might work together to stop cybercrimes.

Eric Grosse, Google's (GOOG) security chief, says Washington previously "pointed out some things that we thought should be hardened in our systems, and we very much appreciated the help." But he says the public reaction to the Snowden leaks have made it "increasingly difficult to cooperate even on the defense side." The government has to do the lion's share of the work to restore even minimal trust, but the tech industry has to get beyond the notion that it can go it alone.

For years the tech sector—with its libertarian streak—wasn't sure why it should sully itself with Washington, a town where the BlackBerry (BBRY) still rules.Microsoft (MSFT) began seriously lobbying only after it ran into antitrust problems in the mid-1990s. Google set up a single lobbyist in the capital in 2005, explaining on a company blog that it "seems that policymaking and regulatory activity in Washington, D.C., affect Google and our users more every day." Last year the tech sector was the fourth-largest spender on D.C. lobbying, a few million dollars behind the oil and gas industry. The Snowden scandal only confirmed tech's suspicions about the government.

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