One of the positive fallouts of Edward Snowden’s leaks about massive NSA snooping has been a reluctance of technology giants to be seen as aligning with government officials to share data. Technology and telecom companies have been expressing a sense of helplessness in the face of government requests to part with data about the public on the ground that officials are armed with draconian powers to coerce them into submission. A refusal could endanger their business and make going extremely tough.
After Snowden’s revelations, the public attitude in the US to snooping by spying agencies has changed. From a willingness to be monitored to fight terrorism and guarantee security, it has shifted to belligerent opposition to the practice due to a realization that the surveillance infringed on their personal freedoms and was being misused. Technology firms began to be wary of colluding with the government and some openly rebelled. Lavabit, an email service that boasted of its security features, and which was reportedly used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, shut down early this month after its owner announced his refusal to become “complicit in crimes against the American people”. The company plainly rejected a court order for cooperation with the US government to participate in surveillance on its customers. It was the first such company known to have shuttered rather than comply with government surveillance.
These developments have emboldened other companies too. Reports say tech giants Microsoft and Google are planning to sue the US government to win the right to reveal more information about the official requests for user data. The legal battle is seen as an effort to regain their lost image. Critics have accused these companies of collaborating in the snooping. The companies denied the NSA had direct access to their systems but said they were legally unable to disclose how many times they have been asked to provide information on users.
That both Microsoft and Google are approaching the court to keep their customers informed of the level of their collusion with the government is praiseworthy and points to the positive effect of Snowden’s revelations. Companies are primarily accountable to their customers, not the government.
It’s difficult to predict the outcome of the planned legal action, but whatever the outcome, it will help protect privacy and freedoms. The case will further embarrass the US government which has been forced to rethink its surveillance strategy in the face of public opposition. If Google and Microsoft win the case, it will mark a milestone in guaranteeing freedom enshrined in the US constitution. If they lose the case, there is still time to pile pressure on the government to mend its ways.
The message is that the government will be forced to buckle under the public pressure•