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Tech Companies Boost Their Efforts to Stave Off Spy Agencies

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Posted on Jun 9, 2014

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Tech companies are in a new race to make it harder for spy agencies around the world, such as the NSA in the U.S., to access their customers’ data.

Google, which had been more cooperative with the government before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the agency’s snooping tactics, is now taking steps like laying its own fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans to thwart the NSA and other clandestine operations. According to The New York Times, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are also ramping up their encryption efforts, which might not guarantee total insulation against unwelcome interference but will make break-ins more difficult and time consuming.

The Snowden leaks, which exposed massive surveillance from the U.S. government and other state agencies, have not only hurt these tech companies’ bottom lines and reputations domestically but are also forcing them to take new precautions if they want to preserve business relations with countries such as Brazil and Germany, both of which have threatened to entrust their data solely to local providers.

The Times article also points to tech companies Verizon and AT&T, which claim they are denying data requests by the U.S. government that they believe aren’t justified by existing laws. Meanwhile, the administration’s side of the story is represented by Robert S. Litt, the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:

“Just as there are technological gaps, there are legal gaps,” he said, speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, “that leave a lot of gray area” governing what companies could turn over.

In the past, he said, “we have been very successful” in getting that data. But he acknowledged that for now, those days are over, and he predicted that “sooner or later there will be some intelligence failure and people will wonder why the intelligence agencies were not able to protect the nation.”

Further fallout from the Snowden leaks has affected companies like Cisco in the form of lost profits over the past year. Also, foreign governments are asking technology companies to hand over the same type of data that the NSA was able to obtain before Silicon Valley’s relationship with Washington took a more contentious turn.

—Posted by Donald Kaufman

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