Jan. 17 - U.S. technology companies could still be negatively impacted on foreign shores after reforms to the U.S. surveillance program. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Same snooping. More oversight. Less access. President Obama is tweaking the National Security Agency's surveillance program after months of being hammered by secrets revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden. But government reforms don't go far enough when it comes to protecting technology companies, says Daniel Castro, senior IT policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. SOUNDBITE: DANIEL CASTRO, SENIOR IT POLICY ANALYST, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOUNDATION (ENGLISH) SAYING: "They are not acting in the commercial interests of U.S. companies and U.S. consumers and that means this: U.S. companies, when they are trying to go and sell their products abroad, they are having a hard time because foreign competitors are saying; 'hey if you buy our products they don't have back doors from our government." The biggest change has to do with phone calls. The NSA was collecting and storing phone numbers, dates, and duration of calls, but President Barack Obama has ordered that to stop. SOUNDBITE: U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (ENGLISH) SAYING: "This will not be simple. The Review Group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with the government accessing information as needed. Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated data-base would be carrying out what is essentially a government function with more expense, more legal ambiguity, and a doubtful impact on public confidence that their privacy is being protected." Telecom companies could be left holding the bag when it comes to smoothing things over with customers, even if the government picks up the tab. SOUNDBITE: DANIEL CASTRO, SENIOR IT POLICY ANALYST, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOUNDATION (ENGLISH) SAYING: "At the end of the day, I think the government will have to foot that bill. Historically that's what they've done in other cases where they have required telephone companies and other companies to do some kind of, take on some kind of law enforcement activity on their behalf." On the other hand, nothing was said about breaking into encrypted emails. To that end, Obama tried to reassure the world that controls are being put in place to keep the Internet safe and private. SOUNDBITE: U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (ENGLISH) SAYING: "As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control." But that may be little comfort to those worried about how much information phone, email, and internet companies are providing to the White House willingly or not.