Because arguing constitutional principles, righteous as they are, is getting us nowhere, we’ll have to argue financial principles. But maybe this argument will succeed where others have failed. James Fallows, prompted by an essay by John Naughton in the Guardian, explains:
In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.
- American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
- American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.
Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.
The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden – asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.
Other countries will refuse to do business with U.S. tech firms for the same reason they would if the U.S. were mixing corrosive chemicals in with its exported petroleum products: The product is tainted and will damage whoever/whatever uses it.