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Surveillance Threatens U.S. Business Climate, Democracy, Say Stanford Researchers

Publication Date: 
January 16, 2014
Stanford Report
Clifton B. Parker

Aleecia McDonald comments on the NSA's blurring of the line between corporate and government surveillance for The Stanford Report. 

Stanford scholars say blanket mass surveillance undermines the U.S. economy by creating the global perception of an unsafe American business climate. Meanwhile, the technology behind surveillance is evolving well ahead of the law. As a result, privacy and civil liberty concerns are mounting.


Mass surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies is jeopardizing America's reputation as a safe place to do business, according to a Stanford scholar.

"We are no longer seen as a safe business climate," said Aleecia M. McDonald, director of privacy at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. "It is difficult to convey the intensity of international outrage over the U.S.'s conduct," as revealed by document leaker Edward Snowden.


As McDonald points out, the NSA tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone and news reports indicate that the agency eavesdropped on more than 35 international politicians, including heads of state and senior officials in the European Union. This has economic repercussions, she said.

"U.S. companies are frustrated that the NSA is also collecting the user data they collect themselves," she said. "There is no longer a clear-cut distinction between government and corporate tracking within the U.S."


In particular, the Snowden affair revealed that the "breadth and depth of surveillance is far more intense than imagined," McDonald said. The NSA every day is monitoring millions of phone calls, email messages, instant messages and address books.

"This puts U.S. businesses in a difficult bind," said McDonald. Despite knowing their Internet browser cookies may be used for NSA tracking, companies are not planning to make changes to their lucrative advertising networks.

"The difficulty businesses face is that massive data collection about their users is the underlying business model for most Internet companies," she said.

McDonald recently joined hundreds of other higher education scholars from around the world to sign a petition calling for an end to the surveillance. "This has to stop. … Without privacy, people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information," the petition states.