Democrat Ron Wyden: NSA surveillance hurting US economy, damages companies’ reputations

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The disclosures about the National Security Agency’s unchecked phone and Internet surveillance programs are hurting the U.S. economy, warned Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden on Wednesday.

Wyden’s remarks kicked off a day of discussion with journalists, law and policy experts, and technologists at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. over the impact of the NSA’s phone and Internet surveillance programs.

Republicans Michigan Rep. Justin Amash and Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner also delivered their own remarks in separate keynote addresses later in the day.

Wyden, calling the programs “constitutionally flawed” and “overly intrusive,” told audience members that the programs’ flaws “go beyond the intrusions on the individual privacy of our people.”

“American companies that are believed to have been the subject of government surveillance orders are taking a major hit internationally and here at home,” said Wyden.

In the weeks following former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the programs, U.S. tech companies reported losing business as a consequence of the disclosures.

According to a recent report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, the NSA’s Internet surveillance programs could cost the U.S. cloud computing industry up to $35 billion over the next three years due to the companies’ damaged reputations abroad.

“This is a serious economic issue at a time when we all know that our economy most certainly is fragile,” said Wyden.

“In the global marketplace, American digital companies, especially those that have to reach those markets thousands of miles away are going to lose ground, serious ground, to foreign competition, and it will put tends of thousands of high-paying American jobs at risk if this trend continues,” warned Wyden.

Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman told audience members that prior to publishing the story about PRISM, one of the NSA’s Internet surveillance programs, the U.S. government tried to convince Gellman not to publish the names of the companies participating in the program.

The companies would be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future should their names be disclosed, the government said to Gellman.

A number of the implicated companies — including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and LinkedIn — are fighting the executive branch in court to be able to disclose more information about the kinds of requests they receive.

Their lawsuits, and petitions, are part of an effort to restore consumer trust in their services.

“Let me tell you, if a foreign enemy was doing this much damage to our economy, people would be in the streets with pitchforks,” said Wyden.

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