President Obama at meeting with executives from leading tech companies at the White House in Washington December 17, 2013. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.
The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft and Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House. But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was called before a House of Commons home affairs select committee to be grilled over the publication of the Snowden leaks. Grandstanding Tory parliamentarians have criticized the Guardian for publishing evidence of widespread, reckless criminality in the British spy agency GCHQ and its American counterpart, the NSA. Predictably, they say that disclosing the spooks' lawlessness "helps terrorists." They've called for criminal prosecution against the Guardian.
As Rusbridger prepares to take the stand, Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, writes in the Guardian that Rusbridger was right to publish. Further, he announces that he is "launching an investigation [on out-of-control spying] that will culminate in a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next autumn.
In the Guardian, Julian Borger follows up on Monday's account of the raid on the newspaper's office by British spooks from GCHQ that culminated with government agents smashing a laptop into tiny pieces on the grounds it contained one of many, many copies of the Edward Snowden leaks. It's not clear whether the spooks were incompetent enough to believe that this would have any practical effect on the continued publication of secrets regarding dragnet surveillance, or whether it was a purely symbolic gesture.
But the evidence favours intimidation. Borger tells a tale of increased pressure on the Guardian, a series of ever-more-intense calls and visits, dropped hints of a secret injunction or a full-on raid. It culminated with the farcical destruction of the tainted computer, which had been infected by its proximity to embarrassing revelations of government lies and criminality, in which Guardian employees, top spooks, and stern government ministers reduced the computer to scraps by means of angle grinders and drills. The spies took lots of pictures, but let the Guardian keep the scraps.