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The secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the NSA

Bernice Napach
Daily Ticker

U.S. technology companies are under pressure not just in Europe where a top court ruled recently that Google could be forced to erase certain search results on individuals, but in the U.S. as well.

Cisco Systems  (CSCO) CEO John Chambers wrote President Obama last week that U.S. technology companies risk losing sales because of allegations that the National Security Agency has intercepted equipment shipments.

"We simply cannot operate this way, our customers trust us to be able to deliver to their doorsteps products that meet the highest standards of integrity and security," Chambers wrote.

Related: How to escape the dragnet of Google, Facebook and America's surveillance economy





In December eight technology companies including Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB) , Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO), the parent company of Yahoo Finance, called on the U.S. government to set limits on government surveillance of customers' data -- famously revealed by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden.

Such government surveillance taxes the credibility of U.S. tech companies which "depend on gaining and keeping the trust of their users," says Martin Smith, producer of a Frontline report about the secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the National Security Agency. (This second part of a two-part series on the "United States of Secrets" airs tonight on local public television stations.)

Related: China may have hacked your company, too

When using the Internet "most people understand they're getting a free service and in exchange they're giving up personal information for advertisers," explains Smith in the video above." Advertisers are not the problem.... It's the government.... You know your information is being sold to advertisers but do you also know that those cookies that land on your browser when you're on the Internet ... can be piggybacked by the government?" asks Smith. "In fact they're doing that."

So will the government curb its spying on Internet users?

The NSA has a new director, Mike Rogers, a U.S. Navy Vice Admiral who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command, part of the U.S. Strategic Command. Rogers says he believes "in transparency" but has to be "mindful" [not to] undermine the specifics of what we’re doing” to protect the country -- which he likened to walking a tightrope.

And Congress is working a new USA Freedom Act to curb NSA surveillance, and the House could vote on its version as early as next week.

But the White House recently released a report on Internet privacy that seems to sidestep surveillance by the NSA, stressing instead data collection by private companies.

Meanwhile tech companies like Google and Yahoo are encrypting more data, which will make it harder for the government to access it. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports in its latest survey that an increasing number of tech companies are disclosing government attempts to access user data.





Smith doesn't know if these efforts will mean more privacy protection for Internet users but he’s pleased "we're having a conversation ... that perhaps we should have had long ago and that could lead to changes."


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