There’s this cool article which talks about the impact of the PRISM leak on the infrastructure of the cloud storage/data outsourcing industry. On the one hand the article’s writer points out that the potential impact is far and away more enormous than the official report, while on the other he shows why the actual impact will probably be a lot less devastating. He then goes on to talk about what both corporations and countries can do to mitigate the effects of PRISM’s exposure. In this, my own article, I want to talk about the ethical issues involved in avoiding being spied on.
The article is written by James Staten, who is an employee of Forester Research, and the purpose of the article is to showcase the findings of the company about the economic impact of the US spying on people on the Internet. This all began when Henry Snowden leaked to the public just how much surveillance of the Internet the National Security Agency (NSA). Because that surveillance included the President of Brazil, and other dignitaries, the Brazilian government has threatened to take step in order to cut America off from the ability to access the cloud capabilities of Brazil. Other nations have made similar statements. In his article Mr. Staten points out three things. First is that The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) made the prediction that by 2016 the US cloud storage market would take a $35 billion hit. This would be caused by foreign countries no longer giving their services to America, due to the increased fragmentation of the Internet. The second thing that Mr. Staten says is that this estimate is in fact far too low, and in reality the projected blow to the cloud economy could stretch as far as $180 billion. This would be caused by both Americans taking their business outside the US, and and by the fact that America is not the only country to spy on the Internet, just the first to be caught. As more countries’ actions are brought to light, the cost to the cloud storage market would be compounded, both in America and abroad. Finally, Mr. Stanten states that in reality these projections are unrealistic. The reason is that most American corporations already have a sizable amount of information stored in the cloud. It would be a massive undertaking to try and cut all ties to that undertaking, and also extremely expensive. Mr. Stanten points out that the vast majority of companies would rather simply be a little unsafe than risk losing so much money. He also say that there are two things that could be done to minimize the effects of the PRISM leak. The first is companies increasing their own security on their information, so that even if the government wanted to they would be unable to access their information. The second would be governments themselves stepping forward and creating a global framework of rules and regulations regarding Internet surveillance by government agencies.
So, what is my take on all this? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I have very little knowledge of economics, and do not really understand why exactly the US governments actions would cause so much loss of money. But I trust that Forrester Research did good calculations, and that their estimate is pretty good, even is not perfect. I think that everyone can agree that the US government made many mistakes in the way that they handled things. Even if it were necessary to gather information as a part of their mission to protect America, they went too far, and went snooping into areas that need not be snooped in. So, what are the ethical issues here? From the article two big issues rise to the surface: What should be the response of individual companies to the governments attempts to spy, and what actions should the world’s government take to curtail any further problems. These are both issues that Mr. Stanten raises in his article, and I would like to discuss them here.
First, individual US companies. What are they to do in light of the fact that the US government is using some pretty devious methods to get the information it wants? Well, the first things they could do is most all their stored data to companies which are not based in America. This would certainly solve the problem of American spying, but in the long run would probably cause more harm than good. In the first place this would be the very thing which would contribute to the fall int the cloud storage market. Even if the American government is doing wrong, there is little reason to own American company to punish another American company for the sins of that government. Also, making the move from one could storage to another would be a significant to major undertaking, depending on the company, and could end up costing quite a bit more than the added security is worth. But the most important reason this is not a good idea is that America is not the only country which has espionage problems. There are a plethora of other countries where there is little to no regulation as this heat map, gotten from Mr. Staten’s article, goes to show. And since there’s no way of telling what the future holds, any country you decide to move storage to could potentially one day become a risk, prompting another costly move. No, moving outside the USA would not solve the problem. The second option is to stop outsourcing at all, and instead store all company information on company servers. This sounds better than before, but in the end it suffers from similar problems as number one. It would take a lot of business away from legitimate businesses, hurting the economy, and would be very costly and inefficient. The whole reason that cloud storage has become so popular is that it is so much easier to do than self-storage. For a sufficiently large company, the cost of upkeeping the servers would pretty much negate any benefits gained from the change. True, the information would be safe, but in the end the company itself would be severely hurt, possibly leading to layoffs, and hurting people directly. Mr. Stanten’s solution is to add encryption to your company’s information when it is stored in the cloud. This would indeed solve quite a few problems. In the government wished to know what you have stored, they would have to go to your company directly, instead of going behind you back to the company storing your information. But in the end the government would do that, and it would not truly stop the spying. I think that there is one more step that can and ought to be taken. The real problem is that the American government has too much liberty. If American corporations truly wish to protect their clients privacy, while simultaneously protecting the economy, the best option is petition. America is a place where we can petition for change, and have a pretty good chance of getting it. The First Amendment guarantees us this right. If the corporations of the USA were to band together, and demand more transparency from the US government and the NSA, then they would be able to get it. And if the US government were to be held in check, and kept from abusing its powers, then in the end the problem would be solved, without the need to resort to very costly changes in company data infrastructure.
What about the nations of the world? How are they to respond to the fact that one of the biggest nations in the world has come out about abusing its powers to spy and gather data, and the knowledge that other nations are doing the same thing, just in better secrecy? Proverbs 15:22 say that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” I think that the most important thing that governments can do is talk to each other. Every country has its own ideas as to what the best direction is, but if everyone does their own thing, everything’s going to be done differently, and it will all fall apart. The nations of the world need to take counsel from each other, and advise each other on what is to be done, and in the end all agree on what ought to be done. This is, of course, extremely idealistic, and completely unfeasible in practice. The day all the nations of the world are able to agree on any one thing is the day we achieve true world peace, which is nowhere near happening. But even so, communication between countries is important. Mr. Stanten mentioned the G20 conferences, and how they could be used for this purpose, but i think it goes beyond this. A yearly conference is not enough to right the wrongs in government. There needs to be actual accountability between countries, a way for countries to keep each other in check. Maybe a system where two countries are give each other all their information, and this information is kept secure between the countries, but in the event that one country does something bad, the other country could bring it to the attention of the other countries… I guess I’m really just taking Matt. 18:15-17, and applying it to international politics. I’m pretty sure that’s a terrible idea, but it feels like a good one.
The American government is spying on people it shouldn’t, and it could very well hurt the cloud storage market. What should the response be? Well, corporations in America ought to adopt better security for their information, putting roadblocks in the government’s way. But they should also attempt to use their 1st Amendment rights to try and change the way that the government functions. In the same vein, nations need to talk about issues like this, and develop international laws which promote interaction and accountability. Only in this way will countries really be able to hold each other in check, avoiding gross breaches of conduct.