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New Report on the Costs of NSA Surveillance

On the same day Senator Leahy introduced an updated USA FREEDOM Act [and don’t miss Jennifer Granick’s analysis of the bill], the New America Foundation‘s Open Technology Institute released a new report, Surveillance Costs: The NSA’s Impact on the Economy, Internet Freedom & Cybersecurity.  Wanting to shift the central focus of the debate on NSA surveillance away from simply discussing tradeoffs between national security and individual privacy, Surveillance Costs seeks to “quantity and categorize the costs of NSA surveillance programs.” Through examining what surveillance programs have cost the U.S. in terms of direct economic costs to U.S. businesses, to U.S. foreign policy, and to cybersecurity, the report highlights the significant damage already done to the U.S. and the global internet community — damage which the authors believe will continue in the future without reform.

In its report, the Open Technology Institute finds that the costs of NSA surveillance are indeed quite high. For example, it shows that since the initial Snowden revelations U.S. businesses have reported declining sales abroad because of growing perceptions that U.S. firms are unable to keep customer data secure.  The cloud computing industry has been hit the hardest. The report also points to weakened U.S. diplomatic political power, including eroding credibility for the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda, damages to bilateral and multilateral relations, and weakened trust in Internet security more generally.

The report is a must read for those interested in the ongoing surveillance reform debate, regardless of which side you are on. If you’d like to get a preview of what’s in the report, after the fold, I’ve included the report’s eight recommendations to the U.S. government “which are aimed at restoring trust in American companies and the credibility of the U.S. government, as well as fostering a more open and secure Internet for users worldwide.” 

  1. “Strengthen privacy protections for both Americans and non-Americans, within the United States and extraterritorially.
  2. Provide for increased transparency around government surveillance, both from the government and companies.
  3. Recommit to the Internet Freedom agenda in a way that directly addresses issues raised by NSA surveillance, including moving toward international human-rights based standards on surveillance.
  4. Begin the process of restoring trust in cryptography standards through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  5. Ensure that the U.S. government does not undermine cybersecurity by inserting surveillance backdoors into hardware or software products.
  6. Help to eliminate security vulnerabilities in software, rather than stockpile them.
  7. Develop clear policies about whether, when, and under what legal standards it is permissible for the government to secretly install malware on a computer or in a network.
  8. Separate the offensive and defensive functions of the NSA in order to minimize conflicts of interest.”

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About the Author

Undergraduate at Yale University majoring in Political Science and Comparative Literature