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Revenge of the Nerds: Tech Industry CEOs take the Fight to Washington

The controversial and ongoing issues surrounding the National Security Agency (NSA) following the discovery that they may have infected millions of computers around the world with malicious software used to gather sensitive information by secretly gaining access to private computer systems has sparked outrage, and put U.S President Barack Obama in the hot seat.  Amid these discoveries, Obama appears to be making efforts to ensure that the United States is not seen as an antagonist by the tech world, but instead, a leader.

Obama CNN
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Most recently, Obama has sought the expertise of six of the world’s leading internet and technology executives to discuss the emerging NSA spying scandal, and the future role the government will play in computer technology. However, it is important to note that Obama’s hand has been forced, as the tech giants behind Facebook, Google, Apple, Netflix, Yahoo, and other widely used internet programs have expressed frustration at the current state of affairs, and have called for increased disclosure from the government in the future.

Obama has faced scrutiny of late as the result of public pressure amid comments by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding the American government’s public image amid the current scandal. Zuckerberg stated: “The U.S Government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they are doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst”. Zuckerberg’s reach, especially through social media, is extremely high, and his comments have the potential to reach over a billion Facebook users.

President Obama has been involved in various meetings with internet technology leaders, as the scandal has not only harmed the government’s reputation; it has also made tech companies appear to the general public as accessories to government spying. In January, Google, Apple and other technology companies won United States permission to disclose information to the public about the government’s official orders for customer’s information. Therefore, it appears that the technology companies are off the hook, at least for now.

But what will all of this mean for the future? Obama’s actions are indicative that the government is, at least partially, willing to own up to its mistakes. However, it is believed that change will not be swift, as Zuckerberg expressed his frustrations to President Obama over the damage the government is creating, in a phone conversation on March 13th, 2014. Following this conversation, Zuckerberg announced to Facebook users that it will likely take a very long time for the government to reform its ways.

Since the NSA scandal broke, Obama has made attempts to curb the NSA’s practices, as reforms to the NSA include limitations on data gathering and eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly or allied nations. However, Obama and the NSA have reported that these surveillance programmes are crucial to U.S national security, despite continuously emerging reports about NSA’s invasive and unconstitutional information gathering tactics.

The planned meetings will be a crucial step towards government transparency, especially in computer technology. Zuckerberg and his industry colleagues must encourage the United States to take steps towards transparent data collection means, whilst still allowing for the continuation of national security programs. This will be no easy task, as the United States does not appear keen on limiting the scope of its technological defense measures. However, further limitations to these procedures must persist if the internet is to become a safe, but free platform for innovation and expression.

Andrew Majoran
Andrew Majoran is a recent Master of Science graduate from the Transnational Security Studies program at Royal Holloway, University of London in the United Kingdom. Before attending Graduate School abroad, he completed his Honours Bachelors Degree in Political Science at McMaster University. Andrew has a wide range of academic interests; however, his specialization lies in the fields of international security, counter-terrorism, multilateral defence, and maritime security. Andrew has presented his innovative multilateral counter-terrorism strategies to a multitude of groups, including a large group at the Royal Military College of Canada. While perusing his education, Andrew worked as a licensed Private Investigator in the Toronto area, working on an abundance of cases for a wide range of high profile clients.