Google has officially come out in favor of more transparent surveillance by governments across the world. Just how this is supposed to work — in a period of war where our enemies have unprecedented access to the Internet and all the information provided there — the search company just does not attempt to explain.
Writing what has to be the most ironic paragraph since the Edward Snowden scandal first broke, Google Vice President of Public Policy Susan Molinari says:
Google recognizes the very real threats that the U.S. and other countries face, but we strongly believe that government surveillance programs should operate under a legal framework that is rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight.
Given that all US surveillance programs are enacted according to law, and overseen by the Congress, how is the government failing to meet Google’s call for “a legal framework that is rule-bound”? The US government publishes more rules than any other organization on the planet.
The absurdity of these calls for “greater transparency” hides the fact that Google is afraid it will lose business (revenues) because an angry public will somehow take its search activity elsewhere. Despite the fact that Forbes claims traffic to Google alternatives is soaring, these alternative search services are receiving a tiny fraction of the traffic that Google boasts.
It will take years to unseat Google as the King of Search; and if that happens, it won’t be a completely unnatural occurrence. Google can make itself irrelevant just as its predecessors in the dominance of search once did. Most people today do not remember using Altavista, the one-time King of Search before anyone had heard of Google.
Government surveillance activities are used to identify new nodes of terrorism, to track down terrorist organizations’ resources, and to help plan future campaigns (either by the military or paramilitary organizations) against terrorist organizations. But surveillance organizations are also tasked with monitoring other nations’ capacities to make war, intentions to make war, and perceived intelligence priorities. Asking a government to disclose to the public exactly who it is monitoring and how is equivalent to asking a chess champion to declare all his moves in advance of the next game. There is no point in doing any surveillance if your enemies and potential enemies know what you are doing.
Google has a long history of making really stupid statements. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin boasted that their PageRank system would prevent Web spam from affecting their search results. Today, Google continues to struggle against the invasive practices of Web spammers.
This latest silly initiative from the search giant underscores just how fragile the Silicon Valley Community can be intellectually. They have learned to think with their wallets and not with their hearts. Until such time as the world is a safer place, we have a powerful need for secret surveillance; we do not, in this country, have a powerful need for the kind of crowd-sourced oversight that so far has proven to be disastrous for our intelligence operations.
Google’s public policy blog needs to take a stance on behalf of the public interest, not against it; at the very least it should present more rational and clearly thought-out proposals. This kind of rhetoric from a rich and influential company like Google is too dangerous to go unchallenged.