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Obama says spying hit U.S. reputation, and he plans a fix

Patrick Thibodeau | Aug. 12, 2013
Vint Cerf, who met with Obama this week, hopes transparency will help.

President Barack Obama said Friday that the Edward Snowden spying revelations has given the world the wrong impression about the U.S. data surveillance programs, as he outlined a plan for correcting it.

The President Obama never mentioned the potential economic stakes for the U.S. in his press conference, but he nonetheless acknowledged that the U.S. is losing a global public relations battle over privacy.

"A general impression, I think has taken hold not only among the American public but also around the world that somehow we're out there willy-nilly, somehow sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it and that's not the case," President Obama said.

If Obama doesn't convince global audiences, in particular, that the U.S. is protecting privacy, there are concerns that the cloud computing industry may lose billions of dollars to foreign cloud competitors, particularly in Europe.

Even if the President didn't talk directly Friday about the economic risks, it may have been on his mind. On Thursday, Obama met in a closed door meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Vint Cert, Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist, among others, reported Politico.

In his press conference, Obama outlined a series of steps intended to increase transparency of the spying programs. He urged debate as well, and said he would create an independent board to review U.S. surveillance programs, with an initial report due in 60 days.

"I hope transparency will be to our advantage," Cerf said in an email to Computerworld of Obama's remarks at the press conference.

The criticisms that the U.S. faces over privacy in foreign markets, particularly in Europe is by no means new, but Snowden's disclosures have clearly exacerbated it.

"I think the Europeans realized this problem years ago, long before Snowden," said Chris Hoofnagle, the Director, Information Privacy Programs at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

That's because officials like Michael Hayden, a former intelligence chief in President George W. Bush administration, "...were making statements about how our nation's intelligence power was in part because of how Internet traffic flows through the U.S., thus giving us the opportunity to monitor it at the landing stations."

"The Snowden revelations just make this problem obvious to the general public," Hoofnagle said.

A report this week by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation said U.S. cloud providers could lose as much as $35 billion if foreign markets pull back because of privacy concerns.


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