A letter from web giants to the US government may be just the start of a conversation about how we can innovate around privacy and transparency.
Web giants want the US government to be more transparent -- and let them be more forthcoming -- about its requests for information. I think that's just the start of a conversation about who in the Internet era is motivated to innovate around privacy and transparency.
Web giants Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo were among 63 companies and organizations that sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders asking for more transparency. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers were among the non-profits who signed the letter.
Specifically, the web companies want to be free to release:
- The number of government requests for information about their users
- The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested, and
- The number of requests that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information
They close the letter with this interesting comment:
Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable, and respectful of civil liberties and human rights.
I say, "Amen to that!" And then I scratch my head.
It seems to me Edward Snowden's leaks about information gathering at the US National Security Agency are just the tip of the iceberg in a society running as fast as it can to spawn, capture, and analyze personal content.
I don't pretend for a minute to understand the implications of all this. I did listen yesterday to a fascinating and visceral debate about the Snowden case between Daniel Ellsberg, co-author of the The Pentagon Papers, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
I note the companies who sent this letter are the same ones collecting big-data about their users and performing analytics to find new opportunities before their competitors. And EE Times readers sell the servers, switches, silicon. and software that fuels the big-data engines.
In this era, when the motto is "Join the Conversation," I note engineers are often understandably shy about sharing their personal data. They realize there's an unspoken cost of all the free information and services on the web.
The full bill hasn't been presented clearly yet, but some people are starting to ask for their checks. Put another way, the network cloud we have been building for so many years, needs to get a little clearer.